Hiking Nepal's Annapurna Circuit Pt. 2

You can read part 1 here, which outlines the first 10 days of trekking the Annapurna Circuit. 

After we crossed Thorong La (our big 17,700-foot accomplishment of the trek) on Day 10, our hike down from the pass was mostly steep, steep, STEEP! It was a vast contrast from everything else we had experienced and it was painful in a whole new way we didn't expect.

Instead of being just sore, our muscles, knees, and bodies felt achy, tired, and strained. So, we hiked less after that leg of the trip. Sometimes we took buses down steep portions to save our knees or took a Jeep when our stomachs weren’t fully cooperating.  

Unlike thru hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), there is no great honor in hiking the entire Annapurna Circuit. Largely, because it is not always clear where the “official” trail is. A lot of times the trail is on a dusty road, sometimes the trail goes straight uphill to stay away from the roads, but the road takes you to the right destination too. Sometimes the trail just didn’t seem to exist anywhere. Because of this, we felt no commitment to walk 100% of the circuit, but instead to just have a good time on the second half starting on ...

Day 11: Took a bus. Hiked 6.3 miles. Slept at 9,038 ft in Jomsom.

After waking up from an 11-hour coma-like sleep (crossing the pass was an exhausting day) we set off through Muktinath in search of even more grueling downhill trail. (I forgot to mention Muktinath is a sacred place for both Hindus and Buddhists and one of the holiest places of pilgrimage.)

However, after hobbling down to just past the town, we all agreed our legs were in no shape to take on more downhill agony. Instead, we turned around and hopped on an incredibly crowded local bus that weaved down the steep, narrow, but newly paved road to Kagbeni. We walked through Kagbeni to see beautiful wall carvings, baby animals roaming the streets, and a great view of the peaks we had just left.

Once done exploring, we hiked the flatter road that followed the mostly dry riverbed to Jomsom. The high wind and dusty valley made it a more intense hike that any of us expected. It took a couple of hours to get to Jomsom before we settled in for the night. 

 

Day 12: Jeep-ed instead of hiked. Slept at 8,407 ft in Kalopani.

When we woke up, stomachs were again not cooperating, now Brian was having issues, so we had a leisurely morning at the Himalayan Java Coffee shop next to our teahouse. The coffeehouse walls were covered with art, so two hours later I left with two wonderful watercolors painted by the barista with no idea how to fit them in my backpack. I just couldn’t resist.

Since stomachs were still a little iffy, we hired a Jeep to get us to our next stop of Kalopani. On the way, we pit-stopped at the picturesque towns of Marpha and Tukuche in search of apple brandy distilleries and good views but, unfortunately, we only found the latter. Once in Kalopani, it was raining so we were happy to spend the rest of the day doing laundry, playing cards, and relaxing while our stomachs and joints recovered.

 

Day 13: Hiked 3.5 miles. Took a Jeep. Slept at 4,310 ft in Tatopani.

Brian’s stomach was still unreliable so we asked the teahouse owner to call us another Jeep for mid-day. While we waited and Brian rested, Andrew, Dad, and I did a short hike to explore the surrounding woods and alpine area and shake out our recovering legs. It was a beautiful day and it felt wonderful to hike without backpacks or a destination. The Jeep was yet another extremely bumpy ride that took a few hours.

We got out of the Jeep in Tatopani and found ourselves in a completely different climate. Instead of thin mountain air, we breathed in the thick humid air of a tropical jungle. Tatopani was is a narrow village built into the side of the hills next to a river. We wandered around and found a teahouse with a comfy restaurant and settled in for the afternoon. Since we had time to kill, the healthy stomach hikers (everyone except Brian) indulged in some beers (Everest brand, of course) and pizza. Everyone went to bed feeling mostly healthy again, and a little buzzed.

 

Day 14: Hiked 11 miles. Slept at 9,295 ft in Ghorepani.

Our last real hiking day! We woke up early, had light breakfasts and set off for a big 5,000 ft climb day. The trail/road was steep and zigzagged up the side of a tall hill. While hiking, we were repeatedly passed by a large tractor with bald tires that slipped in the mud from the daily rains in this area, then inevitably we would catch up with it a few minutes later as it got stuck in the mud. When this happened, a boy would leap out and grab large rocks and sand to throw under the spinning tires. We leapfrogged with the tractor for over an hour up the steep side of the muddy hill.

At a teahouse along the way, we paused for some Fanta and more water and continued to climb. The rest of the hike was a narrow trail and mostly stone stairs. We climbed and climbed and climbed. Finally, we arrived in Ghorepani around 4 pm to end our eight-hour up-hill hiking day. The long day of climbing took us up out of the jungle and back into thin, cold mountain air. We found a teahouse for the night, and once the sun went down we bundled up in our down coats again and crowded around the woodstove for dinner.

 

Day 15: Hiked ~6 miles. Took a Jeep. Slept at 2,943 ft. in Pokhara. 

The next morning was a must see. We woke up before 4 am, put on our warm clothes and headlamps to hike up 1,000 feet to the top of the nearby Poon Hill to watch the sunrise over the Himalayas. The hike was another hour of stair climbing and since it was dark and early, we all trudged up the stairs in silence at our own paces (meaning Andrew arrived first). Once at the top, we were surprised to see a tiny café (a shed really) selling hot beverages. Holding a cup of hot black coffee, we waited for the sun to rise. When the light started slowly appearing, we saw we were surrounded by the peaks among the Annapurna mountain range. It was so beautiful!

We alternated between taking photos, and just starring in complete awe at the huge snowcapped peaks. Once our sweat dried and we all got cold, we hiked back down, ate breakfast at our teahouse, then packed up, and hiked down to the next town. The farther down we went, the hotter and more humid it got. It was a beautiful trek across rivers and streams, mostly in the dense forest.

Since we were still fully against downhill hiking (it is just too hard on the joints), we grabbed a Jeep when we got to Kimche before the trail turned into the road again and booked it to Pokhara where we had a proper (and rather luxurious) hotel reserved. Thus, officially ending 15 days of sometimes grueling, but always spectacular hikes that we will never forget!

Though difficult at times, hiking the Annapurna Circuit with Andrew, my dad, and Brian was the highlight of 2018. It wasn't as glamorous as the cruise we did in Vietnam, or as relaxing as doing yoga in Bali, or even as much camping as our weeks in New Zealand. Instead, it was the perfect mix of all of those things (well, if you count teahouse stays as glamorous). We had great company, great hikes, and great views day after day. What more could you want?