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Trekking the Annapurna Circuit

NEPAL | Saturday, 16 November 2019 | Views [66]

Where do I even begin? Trekking the Annapurna circuit was one of the top things on my bucket list. I had trained for 3-4 months getting ready for the trek and I can whole heartedly say, it was the best thing I’ve ever done.

Setting off to Besishahar in the early hours of the morning it took our trekking group around five hours to reach the destination. We had lunch and set off for our first day of hiking. It was hot and humid but extremely beautiful. We passed little kids playing on bamboo swings and crossed my first swing bridge (not scary as I thought it would be), waterfalls and rice paddies. We climbed from an elevation of 820m to 890m and stayed in the town of Ngadi. I experienced my first Dal baht, which I was told gives you all the power. It is a combo of rice, curry, dal (lentils) and veg. Unlimited serves is also a plus. I stayed in my first tea house, with a rock hard bed which I later realised would be the least of my problems.

The next day we set off for Chamje at an elevation of 1430m. The views were spectacular, the sun was shining as we crossed waterfalls and rice paddies. It was a much harder trekking day, lots of steps and hot weather made it harder. We would ask our guide how hard the walk would be each morning and he would say “Nepali flats” which is a joke meaning ‘A little bit up, a little bit down which equals flat” but it definitely dosent. As well as this Nepalis say anything under 5000m in Nepal is just a hill. We stayed in a tea house that night overlooking a waterfall. In the tea houses you have to pay a small price for wifi and showers. I thought I would treat myself to a shower that night and definitely regretted it as the water was freezing cold and the lights didn’t work. I was showering in a almost pitch black room which honestly felt like I was in solidarity confinement. The rest of the night we played UNO and argued over the rules.

Most mornings we would start walking around 7:30am, and the higher we got it it would become colder and more difficult. Day three we headed to Dharapani at an elevation of 2100m. About 60km of the trek is on road so the first few days we had to dodge trucks, jeeps and scooters. It was also super dusty. The walk was fairly hard and long around eight hours. But the views as always made up for it. I was told that the food along the way would be quite dull, but I found it to be incredible and a lot of the time better then at home! The tea house we stayed in Dharapani was extremely modern, we were all shocked to see our private bathrooms WITH WESTERN TOILETS.

Most mornings started off with “Liana you’ve forgetten this”. I would always forget something and the locals would run outside to give it to me. But at least it wasn’t my passport! We were on our way to Chame today at an elevation of 2710m. Today the mountains came out! Everyday I was in complete awe of the change of scenery and the views. The locals along the way are so beautiful and are what makes the Himalayas so special. I was stopped by a little girl who called me beautiful, even though I looked far from it. It was a hard day today, I was at the point where unless I listened to my music I couldn’t go uphill. My music was my saviour this entire trek. We passed so many animals, goats, horses and even had to wait for a line of cows to cross a suspension bridge. There was the cutest puppies and I couldn’t resist but pat one. Haven’t got rabbies (yet). We stayed at a tea house that night called the Shangri-la. I woke up during the night to go to the toilet, turned on the light and could see two cockroaches the size of my hand running across my bed frame. I didn’t sleep one bit that night. And I’m pretty  this wouldn’t happen at the real Shangri-La!

Next day we were on our way to Pisang at 3300m. I was lucky enough to not have any altitude sickness effects yet. But knowing I still had 2000m to go was worrying. The walk was fairly easy today with amazing views. What’s even more amazing was a recently new bakery that’s opened up on the trail. I couldn’t wipe the smile of my face as I ate my choc doughnut. To help acclimatize, you’re supposed to go on short walks and if you can, climb up higher and then come back down. We started doing this from this elevation onwards. Once we reached Pisang we climbed 150m higher to Upper Pisang and then came back down to lower Pisang. The night was filled with lots of Dal bhat and UNO.

We were heading to Manang today at an elevation of 3540m. This was the second hardest physically challenging day I encountered on the trek. The morning involved walking up a steep 300m of switchbacks. The sun was blaring down on us making it harder to breathe. I took a lot of breaks but eventually made it to the top by morning tea. On the way up we saw yaks for the first time! They are worth U.S $1000 each. The views were absolutely out of this world and we got to see our first glimpse of Annapurna 1 and 2. The afternoon involved a super dusty walk. We were all wearing masks and it still didn’t feel like enough!

We arrived to Manang were we would have an extra day off to acclimatise. It was at this point I felt physically exhausted. I was coming down with a cold and my breathing was becoming shorter. The tea house food was amazing and I had the best Greek salad I’ve ever had. I decided to take my chance at having a shower and to my surprise it was burning hot. I was so happy I literally cried. We spent the day off walking a few hundred metres higher to acclimatise and then resting. The town has bakeries, a chemist and even a movie theatre. The movie options were all outdoor movies including one of my favourites ‘Into the Wild’.

The next morning we were setting off to Yak Kharka at an elevation of 4018m. I woke up with the worst throat pain, it felt like I had swallowed knives. I was starting to lose my voice and everything was becoming a struggle. As the air was thinner we took a longer morning tea and lunch, and had breaks every twenty to thirty minutes. Although the distances we were walking were becoming shorter, the thin air made it so much harder. By the time we finished lunch we still had to hike a few hundred metres to acclimatise. I was struggling a lot this afternoon. A running joke between an Australian couple and I in my group was that we should have just gone to Bali instead. Everyday was becoming a battle and a lot of it I don’t actually remember because I was just trying to push through. The tea houses didn’t haven’t any heating, neither did the dining rooms. We all gathered in our beanies, down jackets and gloves to eat in a small room. Some other trekkers were gathering around the oven in the kitchen to try and get warm. I wasn’t eating much at this point but knew that I had to because otherwise I would lose energy. We were trying to drink at least four litres a day of water to keep hydrated. No games of UNO tonight, we were all exhausted.

The last day of hiking before we hit the pass. We were on our way to Thorong Pedi at 4450m. It was only around four hours of hiking and included walking through a landslide zone. We made it to Thorong Pedi at lunchtime. All I was eating was soup and I couldn’t even stomach it. We had a break before climbing to a higher altitude. We went about 150m higher to 4600m. My breathing was more like wheezing at this point. Because I had my headphones in I couldn’t hear my breathing, everyone else could however, and said it sounded really bad. Everyone gathered around at tea time to talk about the big day. The dining room was full of trekkers all rugged up in their warmest gear, fuelling up for the big day. I went to bed around 8pm, I had water bottle full of boiling water to help me keep warm and all my trekking clothes on for the next day. Trying to get to sleep was the biggest struggle, my breathing was like wheezing, I was frozen and I thought I would need to be helicoptered out. To make things worse I could hear a bunch of mice rummaging through my bags for snacks. I slept a total of 30 minutes that night.

I woke up at 3:30am to have breakfast before a 4am walking start. I don’t think I have ever felt so crap in my life, it was about -2, my cold was horrendous and I could only stomach two spoonfuls of porridge. We all had our headlamps and about five layers on and started the climb. The first part of the climb to high camp was so steep and scrambly. It was about an hour to high camp and was mainly switchbacks. This was the hardest part for me, I remember turning to my guide and saying “I can’t do this”, I was in so much pain I was crying. All you could see was a bunch of lights getting higher and higher and I was falling very far behind my group. Eventually I made it to high camp, I had about a ten minute break and had to keep going because it felt like my fingers and toes were going to fall off.

We were gaining an elevation of 900m in a space of around 5-6 hours. The next part was just as steep, it felt like you were walking on the moon and every step was a struggle. The higher you get it becomes harder to breathe. I just couldn’t believe I was at this altitude, everything was so surreal. I took a few breaks before we all gathered at a tea house at around 5100m for a hot cup of tea. Everyone sat around a table, you could see the cold air coming out their mouths and everyone was silent. I could see a lot of trekkers using a horse to take them to pass for around 7000 rupees. I definitely considered it but I knew I had to finish it.

The rest of the climb went really fast, something inside me just clicked and I powered through. I tried to take less breaks as I would get colder. I remember having our final break and one of our guides saying “ Can you see the flags”. I couldn’t believe it. Twenty minutes later I was arriving to the prayer flags and my group were cheering me on. We all hugged each other and there were lots of tears. My guide gave me a huge hug and said she was so proud of me. She was the biggest support during my trip and I wouldn’t have made it without her. I’ll be forever grateful!

We were fairly lucky with weather, there was hardly any wind and it was only around -5 at the pass compared to -20 in winter! I felt so accomplished when I reached the top. This was never something I ever thought I could physically do. I’d reached 5416m at Thorung La Pass, the highest accessible mountain pass in the world! It’s higher than the Everest Base Camp south! It was mentally and physically the hardest thing I have ever done and writing this now I still can’t believe it did it.

Congratulations aside we still had so much more hiking to do. We were preparing for a 1600m descent. Going down was hard, my lungs were trying to adjust to the changing elevations and I had a huge headache. We stopped for lunch and I had no appetite so barely ate. We continued on to Muktinath, a town at the valley of the foot of Thorung La Pass at 3800m. We walked up to our accommodation assuming it would be a tea house and all had the biggest smiles when we saw “hotel”. This meant hot showers, heating, wifi and good food. The first thing I did was let mum know I had made it, the last she had heard of me was that I was so sick and I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it. She was shocked but so proud that I had done it. The day overall was around ten hours long. We all celebrated with beer and the fact that we could all breathe normally again.

Our final day of trekking seemed like a breeze. Now that I had crossed the pass anything was possible! It was a seven hour day to the town of Jomsom at 2800m. The last two hours involved walking on a dirt road. The whole way was a dust storm and it was unbearable. Everyone was spitting out dust and when we arrived to our accommodation we were brown. But we were done!! We celebrated with Gorkha beer and the porters performed traditional dances for our group. We thanked them for carrying our bags and I personally said an apology to whoever had to carry my bag.

Our flight to Pokhara got cancelled the next day so we had to catch a jeep to Pokhara. This meant seven people in one jeep, and three of us in the back. I spent four hours clinging for life in the back of the jeep as we passed cliff edges and pot holes. I was at the point where I just thought if I die I die! Our group spent the next day chilling out in beautiful Pokhara, a place I will come back to explore more in the future.

The people in my trekking were amazing. I’ve never been around such supportive and humbling people in my life. Everyday finished with hi fives and congratulations. Their constant support, laughter and positive energy is what got me through. A lot of them have travelled all over the world so to hear their travel stories was so inspiring. It was so refreshing to be around people with similar interests and passions.

Nepal holds such a special place in my heart and will most likely always be my favourite country. This trek taught me a lot about myself, mainly that I doubt myself too much and that I am a lot stronger then I give myself credit for. A lot of people would have thrown in the towel during this trek, but I persisted even when I felt like I was on deaths doorstep. A lot of people think I’m crazy with my adventures but I believe adventure is what you make it. It’s so important to escape your comfort zone and try new things. I worked so hard training for this trek and I’m so proud of myself. I am also so grateful for the fact that I am able to do things like this, to be healthy and to have a secure home to come back too. Passing villages and talking to locals you learn of the struggles they face, especially women in Nepal. The world is unfair and I wish there was a easier way for the Nepalese people.

By the time we got back to Kathmandu and said our goodbyes I was left feeling empty. All I wanted to do was head back to the mountains and relive it all again, even the squat toilets! A part of me was left feeling like life will never be as good again. But then I remembered that I’ll be back for more hiking! (Sorry mum). They say you should go where you feel most alive and for me that’s the Himalayas! So I’ll see ya again soon Nepal!

 

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