I said goodbye as we went into the Himalayas to hike the Annapurna Circuit, but didn’t explain much else. So, below are answers to some questions I had about the circuit when I first heard about it. Hopefully, this will help future posts make more sense.
What is the Annapurna Circuit?
The Annapurna Circuit (AC) is a counterclockwise trekking (also called hiking) loop in the Annapurna Conservation Area in the Himalayas of Nepal. The peak of the trek is Thorong La—a pass at 17,769 ft. Here’s an elevation map to get some context for the climb.
Who can do the AC?
Anyone! Well, anyone who wants to hike for over two weeks and obtains the necessary permits. Each hiker needs two permits—one to get into the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA) and one to be in a hiker database (TIMs) that helps the rescue associations keep track of you along the route. Our group included myself, Andrew, my dad, and Brian—a close family friend that I grew up backpacking with. Andrew and I easily got permits for the four of us in Katmandu by filling out a few forms and providing passport-sized photographs. We are pretty experienced hikers/backpackers so we went unguided, but many people hire guides to help them and to carry some of the gear.
How long does it take?
Most itineraries I saw online take about 17 days, but we did the Annapurna Circuit in 15 days with the help of some buses and Jeeps along the way. The lower elevation towns (<12,000 ft) typically have roads that connect most of the AC. Some people hike for only 10 days and fly out halfway through. Some take their time and hike for 21+ days and add on a bunch of side treks. It all depends.
Ewww. Did you go 15 days without showering?
Nope! The AC is a teahouse trek meaning you stay at local teahouses in small towns along the way. Until we got to higher elevation towns (>12,000 ft), we had hot showers every night in the teahouses. In the middle of the trek, we did have to go two nights without showering but it was so cold those evenings that we weren’t even that dirty/sweaty.
So, the teahouses are like hotels?
Sort of, but without reservations or toilet paper (!). A teahouse (or guesthouse) is basically a small basic hostel-like hotel with a restaurant attached. Each time we arrived in a town we wanted to stay in, we walked around to survey our teahouse options. Typically, the owners were standing outside their establishments and we would ask about the amenities we cared about—gas heated showers (as opposed to unreliable solar showers), electricity, and wifi. If they had those three important amenities, we would ask if the room would be free if we bought dinner and breakfast in their restaurant. Normally they said yes and they would give us two rooms—myself and Andrew in one, Dad and Brian in the other.
A free room?! How is that possible?
Well, as you can see, the room isn’t fancy. There are basically two cots covered with a thin mattress and sheet (a sheet that doesn’t get cleaned very regularly) with walls made of plywood. And normally it has a shared bathroom for the whole building. To make it comfortable, you furnish your own sleeping bag, pillowcase, towel, and yes, toilet paper. However, once we arrived at higher elevations, the rooms had a bit of a fee around 600 NPR ($6 USD) per room. Oh, and there is no heat. So, you need warm clothes for the higher elevations.
When did you do all of this?
We trekked from April 22nd to May 6th. October is the most popular time of year to do the trek because of the mild weather. However, late April is second because the weather is again mild with afternoon rain. We lucked out though and only had afternoon rain three or so days. And the weather was perfect the rest of the time!
Second most popular time of year, huh? How crowded was it?
Not crowded at all! We were surprised at how empty the trail was considering it has gained a ton of popularity in the last few years. Our first few nights on the trek we were the only people in our teahouse. Some days we only saw a handful of people. Once we got closer to the pass, it did get a little more crowded but even so, we never felt we were hiking in a line of people, which is how some bloggers describe October.
This all sounds very expensive.
It wasn’t! The permits cost $43 USD. We paid $300 USD for a private Jeep from Kathmandu to the trail (an eight-hour drive), which we split four ways. I brought the equivalent of $500 USD in Nepalese Rupees for the trek and spent about $400 of it on all my food, teahouse stays, and random Jeeps we took between towns. Oh! And $60 USD of that $400 I used to purchase two watercolor paintings from a local artist in Jomsom. So clearly, we weren’t trying all that hard with the budget and stayed under $30 per day easily.
Wait wait wait. How did you pack for this?
Well, we had some activewear with us when we left the US four months ago. Besides that, we bought extra gear in Kathmandu including a 40L (potentially fake) Osprey backpack for myself. My dad brought my sleeping bag from home and Andrew was able to rent one for less than $1 USD per day. We actually followed this packing list pretty closely. It was great for us because we had everything we needed but our backpacks were still not too heavy.
Sounds like your mentioning hidden costs …
Oops! Yes, you’re right, Andrew and I each spent roughly $200 USD on gear in Kathmandu, including things like hiking boots, socks, fleece jackets, a puffy jacket for Andrew, etc. Fortunately, my dad was able to bring it all back to the US after the trek, so it wasn’t wasted in any way. We could have gone for cheaper options in Kathmandu but since we knew we would send the gear home, we chose stuff we actually wanted and therefore spent a little more.
No more questions.
Okay, don’t be weird about it. If you change your mind and want to know more, feel free to shoot me an email. I could talk about this trek all day long! And I will in the next post!