Annapurna Circuit Recap

Yesterday I flew home to Perth after 23 days in Nepal, having completed (most) of what I set out to do. The magnitude of the trip still hasn’t sunk in and I’m finding it hard to process, a dilemma I’m guessing I face due to some downsides of the trip that I’ll discuss. In short: 135.72km trekked, 5416m max altitude, 8133m climbed, 0 bouts of food poisoning, 0 colitis issues, too many blisters to count, and most importantly $2100 raised for CCA – the achievement I’m most proud of. Along the trip I journaled my thoughts each night in a notebook I brought with me. I did my best Jekyll and Hyde however as these entries were usually very positive and focused on the good parts of the trip, while during the day I would write all the negative feelings in the notes app on my phone. To recap the trip I’ll share some of my journal entries and passages on notes while dictating them and reflecting now I’m done and back at home.

Landing in Kathmandu was the moment my excitement turned into a combination of “hang on” and “what the fuck am I doing here?”. Freezing cold and dealing with Kathmandu airport nearly made me want to evade the airport workers and hide on the plane back to Singapore. Once we made it out, 2 hours later, the taxi driver got us to our hotel somehow without killing us in his Suzuki shitbox. The one day we spent in Kathmandu was the most anxiety ridden day of my life, where I really didn’t want to leave the hotel. The culture shock of being in a place so chaotic and unlike home was just too much to process in the moment. I’ve always been someone who finds comfort in routine and quiet, 2 things that were not available in Kathmandu. I would’ve been glad to get the ‘bus’ to Besisahar and start our trek if it wasn’t for the awful roads and our nutcase driver who hit one motorcycle and nearly killed us in a near miss head on crash with a truck.

Once we made it to Besisahar we contemplated taking another bus further along to Jagat where most people begin due to the first section supposedly not being worth walking thanks to road construction and traffic. Immediately after starting there’s a bridge with the red and white acap marker unit which is meant to signify an alternate trail away from the road so we decided to walk it, following this trail which winded through farm land and local peoples backyards. Everything was going great until we passed some local women who asked us where we were going and laughed when we answered. I don’t know if the trail ever did meet up with where we were meant to be but after that encounter we decided to go off trail completely and detour back to the road. After some bushwhacking and slips down sheer cliffs we got back on the road and on the way to our stop for the night in Bhulbhule. Turns out we missed the TIMS card checkpoint that trekkers are meant to sign into, which I stressed about for a week until the next checkpoint where I found out this system is the same as everything else in Nepal. No one gives a shit.

Day 1 of hiking, clean clothes and a smile give it away.

The next week was relatively uneventful, in a good way. We met some really great people, 3 of which we ended up grouping up and walking with. It was a lot better with the group since it gave us things to talk about and a better sense of security, along with the fact Steve and I would’ve killed each other being stuck together if it wasn’t for them. After 7 days we reached the final point of road access and the last main village before the pass – Manang. Manang was a really cool village with nice guesthouses, friendly people and some comforts we’d missed out on the week prior like coffee machines and shops that were actually stocked. Everything was going great up to this point. In Manang Steve got sick, I’ll save the details but after seeing the doctors at the Himalayan rescue association a combination of a viral infection, altitude and other issues meant he wasn’t going to finish the trek. Steve and another new friend we’d met a couple of days earlier went back from Manang in a Jeep to Pokhara – where I would end up after finishing the trek.

Myself and Steve just after leaving Chame, accompanied by one of Nepal’s many stray dogs.
Another stray dog, this one must’ve done his guide training as he walked with us from Ngawal to Manang.

After Manang it’s 2 days until the push to the pass. The following two days were only 10 and 8km respectively but they were two of the hardest days due to the altitude. I was lucky in that the couple of days sitting in Manang really helped my acclimatisation and I didn’t get any symptoms at all besides being cooked a lot quicker and feeling extremely tired. The facilities become a lot less refined after Manang with electrify being scarce and the chance of a hot shower nonexistent. Surprisingly wifi was available in every guesthouse along the way, and pretty fast all things considered. This was great as it let me contact home every night on the trek, something I had accepted I wouldn’t be able to do prior to starting but don’t know how I would’ve done without it by the end. Thanks for that Nepal, a lot of your other infrastructure leaves things to be desired but at least you’ve got wifi!

Day 9 – Manang to Yak Kharka – 10km

I had the perfect sleep last night: 9:30 – 6:30 without disturbance. I thought that meant that Steve felt better since he hadn’t woken me up but it seems I was wrong as he’s now struggling to get moving. After going back to the HRA and seeing a doctor he’s decided to call it and go back down to Pokhara, leaving me to continue the rest of the circuit with the group. Aaron is going back with him so I don’t need to worry about how he’s going. I rush to pack up and meet up with the group, now that I don’t have to worry about Steve acclimatising I can go back to the original planned stops and finish the trek in 3 days. My heart rate was 90-110 all day which I’m stoked on and I haven’t felt anything altitude related at all yet. The scenery was very different as we climbed above the tree line, I took a lot of opportunities to turn around and take it all in. I had my earphones in and had a very emotional moment somewhere after Gunsang when My Chemical Romance started playing. Since it was announced they were getting back together I downloaded the Black Parade album on my Spotify and Famous Last Words really hit me at a time when the lyrics were relevant and I was susceptible to being a wuss. A bit embarrassing but I’ll probably have a lot more of that over the next two days. Yak Kharka is nice but no western toilets again, the squat toilet is the arch enemy of someone with colitis. We’re really out of civilisation here but it almost feels like a little community with all the trekkers staying in one guesthouse – giving me the chance to catch up with a lot of people I’d met along the way. I’m excited and nervous for tomorrow, hopefully I don’t have any trouble sleeping!

And now we get to pass day, the big moment I’d been looking forward to and what this whole trip was leading up to. Every night I went to sleep worried I’d wake up sick from the altitude but this morning I didn’t because I don’t think I actually got to sleep at all. When I said I didn’t suffer any effects of altitude I really meant nothing that could potentially stop me from continuing, but it definitely stopped me from getting a decent sleep that night. After having a rubbish brekky at 4600m I put my boots on, packed up and headed off under the light from my headlamp. An hours walk to high camp at 4800m knocked the shit out of me and I honestly thought I wasn’t going to make it. After some tea at high camp I decided to put my earphones in, something I should’ve done an hour earlier, secretly hoping that Famous Last Words came on again and would give me a push. That song didn’t come on again and for whatever reason I got a run of sappy slow songs from my playlist that really didn’t hype me up at all. The next two hours consisted of me staring at my feet and saying ‘one in front of the other’ under my breath repeatedly. I must’ve looked like a nutter but it worked, not seeing how far I had to go and just focusing on each step really made this part of the day a hell of a lot easier. I gaze up thinking I’d have to be close to the pass when I see a lot of prayer flags and people culminated on a ridge. Reading the lonely planet book the night before (as was tradition) I knew that there were a bunch of prayer flags that gave you false hope, and that the real pass was 15 minutes further. Supposedly. Turns out that wasn’t the case and this actually was the pass. I can’t describe the feeling of making it to that pass because it felt so surreal and I couldn’t conjure up any emotions at all – I didn’t even feel cold or tired anymore. I bought a hot chocolate from the tiny stone hut and got my photos with the Thorung-La Pass sign. After 20 minutes of rest and soaking in the moment I continued on to what people say is the hardest part of the trek, the descent into Muktinath. 15 minutes in I actually remember saying out loud “this isn’t hard this is great, I’m smashing through this at an incredible pace”. 4 hours after that I agreed with everyone else. My knees took a beating and if it wasn’t for the grip on my boots my ass would have too. In Muktinath I had a celebratory beer, a great sleep and had to make the decision on what to do next.

Day 11 – Thorung Phedi to Muktinath – 15.6km

Well I did it. 11 days later I’ve crossed the pass and I couldn’t be more relieved. Apart from being completely out of breath the altitude didn’t affect me at all. It was an incredible experience and I would’ve regretted not completing it had I gone to Pokhara with Steve. Now I’m in Muktinath eating a pile of food and drinking beers. Over and out.

Thorung-La pass after bailing up some Nepalese guides and getting them to take a photo of me with the CCA shirt, thanks lads.
Best hot chocolate I had in Nepal, at 5416m elevation. Well worth the 500 rupee.

This is where things get a bit disappointing… The original plan was to do the circuit then bus down to the start of the base camp and tackle that trek also, notching up over 200km. The excuses – with Steve in Pokhara it would’ve been a logistical nightmare meeting up again on the trail. My blisters had got so bad that my feet had more blister coverage than normal skin. My ankles were wrecked from the sides of the boots stirring up my peroneal tendons. I was done. Steve was done. I threw in the towel in Muktinath and bailed out. While I’m disappointed that it ended like this I’m also really happy that I didn’t do any more because it would’ve ended even worse. This way I got to meet back up with my friend and had a week to hang out in Pokhara, let my feet recover and actually experience something closer to a holiday. Something I’ve written about on this website has been knowing when to throw in the towel, since usually we want to do a lot more than our bodies will allow. This was one of those moments.

After a great week in Pokhara eating good food and relaxing we headed back to Kathmandu – a city I still hated but could handle a lot better after the past 3 weeks. I braved some sketchier restaurants and to my amazement didn’t get sick – even after a chicken kebab with a street dog keeping us company. Nepal was a naturally beautiful country that I’ll remember forever, from the incredible views every day of the trek to the incessant salesmen on the streets of Kathmandu. No I don’t want a porter. No I don’t want hash. No I don’t want a chess set. Yes I do want to go home because I miss it so much and I’m just exhausted from being away. This was the negative side of my trip, I just couldn’t get comfortable enough to settle down and enjoy myself while I wasn’t trekking. It is what it is though and the trip was a great success regardless.

This trip made me appreciate what I’ve got at home so much, and the relief I had when landing in Perth was ridiculous. I couldn’t have achieved what I achieved and finished the trip without the support from home, especially those that donated to the CCA fundraiser that motivated me more than anything. So thank you, everyone who donated. Thank you Mum and Dad for talking to me every night when I was home sick, I needed that a lot more than you did. Thank you Steve for inviting yourself on this trip with me, this whole thing was so much easier with you than it would’ve been if I’d gone alone like I originally planned. Without you I really might have gone through with jumping back on the plane and going back to Singapore. Thanks for always being the one to try riskier food (and feeling the effects of it), thanks for finding the good hotel in Pokhara, the good places to eat and drink, most importantly thanks for being a good friend. Thank you Stephan, Judith and Brent for letting a couple of dumb Aussies join you even if we did slow you down a bit. Second thanks to Brent for staying with me the days after Manang so we could get a room in guesthouses and I wasn’t walking alone, you’re the fastest man alive and I’m sorry for slowing you down! Thanks to Aaron for going down to Pokhara with Steve and making sure he got there alright. Thanks to everyone that helped us in Nepal, especially all the restaurant owners that made food that didn’t make me sick – probably the most important thing during my stay. Getting food poisoning means a day off for most people out there whereas for me it can potentially mean an emergency flight home so that was massive. Thank you CCA for your support with the fundraising side and for everything you do, it really helped during the times I didn’t want to continue.

As for my colitis I don’t really know where I stand. Before I left my remicade wasn’t working but during the trip I was great. I finished my course of steroids a week in and had no trouble after that but it remains to be seen what happens now. I’m expecting things to get worse again and I’ll have to find another medication but I’ll report back on that later. This trip was the start of me doing things I want to achieve before my condition gets worse. I hate to be a pessimist but I just sense that one day in the not too distant future I won’t be able to do things like this. I’ve got the Tour du Mont Blanc, the Munda Biddi trail and a few other trips knocking around my brain so hopefully I can get onto another effort soon, colitis permitting.

I hope this trek can inspire people to get out there and do the things they want to do while they’re able to. I’ve taken a lot of my life for granted and spent most of my days working the past 5 years, assuming I’d be able to do all these things whenever. It’s incredible how quick your life can change and leave you not able to do what you want, nothing is guaranteed and after experiencing it I can’t say this enough – do it now. Stop fucking around planning it and googling it and whatever else. Buy a ticket and go. That’s all.