In 2001, pre-kids, Chef and I took on the Annapurna Circuit Trek in Nepal, it’s considered one of the best treks in the world. It’s a high altitude trek, reaching 5416m at the Thorong La, the highest pass. It’s long, it takes around three weeks to complete and it’s cold, in February, which was when we did it. It was one of the best experiences of our lives and not really something requiring training or high levels of fitness. Lets talk about the experience of Annapurna Circuit trekking. We returned to the Himalayas and Everest in 2016, 2018 and this year. In latter years with kids, links to those posts are here too.
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We have a little video of crossing the Thorong La below. In 2018 we went to Everest Base Camp, in 2019 there will be another big trek with a lot more video as these days we have good video gear and sound.
The Annapurna Circuit trek is also amazing. The sky was a blue I’d never seen before, we were dazzled by snow-clad peaks which at 8,000m plus, dwarfed us as we slowly progressed along some of the deepest valleys in the world. We passed through village after village, each one different, as we glimpsed a way of life most westerners couldn’t even imagine. We visited temples and monasteries and encountered Buddhist, Hindu and Animist traditions.
Annapurna Circuit Trek Q&A
Would we take on the trek again?
In a heartbeat. We haven’t yet been back, our recent treks have been in the Everest region, but we’d love to see this area again and maybe go further, into Mustang.
Would we take children trekking in the Himalayas?
We’d give it a go, we’d start and be ready to turn back if it was too much for them. The youngest child ever to trek to Everest Base Camp was six. EBC is only slightly higher but I believe it is a more strenuous trek with more altitude issues. I would certainly attempt the Annapurna Circuit with my children, but not be disappointed if we failed.
Update: In 2016, February, we returned to Nepal and took the kids, then aged 9 and 11, half way up Everest. In 2019 with children aged 14 and 12 we took them to Everest Base Camp. I wouldn’t take kids as young as 6 to extreme altitudes.
Did we use porters and guides?
No. But when we took the kids to Everest the first time we had a Sherpa guide to help keep them safe. It was worth paying for but for adults we don’t think it’s necessary. For Base Camp, again, we went solo.
Were there other trekkers about?
A few, we quickly got to know the people walking in the same direction and made some lovely friends. We were almost always alone while we were walking and ended up chatting at lodges and restaurants along the way. If you wanted solitude it was easy to find a deserted lodge.
How did we find our way?
We bought a $2 map in Kathmandu. We mostly didn’t need it, there is basically a path, you follow it. The map was handy for planning where to stop at night. Once we were into deep snow, we occasionally referred to the map to work out which side of the valley we should be walking on, the path wasn’t so clear in the snow.
Where did we sleep?
In guest houses ( sometimes called tea houses ) along the way, there was no shortage of them and they were extremely cheap. At that time tourists were thin on the ground, many guest houses didn’t charge us on condition that we bought breakfast there. This still happens in the less touristed parts of the Himalayas, but on main tourist routes and popular treks costs can be high.
What were the guest houses like?
Very basic, but we were on a tight budget, you probably could have bought more luxury in larger villages. Once we were high in the snow we stopped washing, the water had to be boiled from snow and came in a bucket. It was too cold to shower. Did we smell? We just seemed to smell of tea because we drank so much of it. At high camp, the last stop before the Thorong La, snow blew in through the cracked window and under the door, the toilet was frozen solid, but it was all part of the adventure.
What gear did we take?
Sleeping bags ( rented in Pokhara), sheet sleeping bags, down jackets, thick fleeces, waterproof over trousers, gaiters ( bought on the trek to keep snow out of our boots), hats, gloves, trousers, T shirts, camera gear, water bottles and minimal toiletries.
For our Everest treks I didn’t take a sleeping bag to avoid the extra weight, I was fine with just the lodge’s blankets, but these treks were at a warmer time of year.
What boots did we have?
I had a lightweight pair of suede, summer trekking boots bought for trekking in Thailand. So long as I kept hitting them with waterproofing ( borrowed), they did the job. No frostbite. Chef had serious winter trekking boots. He has since been as far as Namche in running shoes.
Were we actually trekking in fresh, deep, snow?
Yes, a couple of times, on the Thorong La it was thigh deep in places. On our first attempt at the pass we were driven back by a blizzad, it took us three attempts before we got over, in glorious weather and crisp snow. I have no photos of the top of the Thorong La, but I do have the Thorong La Video at the top of the page. Sorry about all the sniffing, the minus five degrees made my nose run. Would you believe, two enterprising Nepalis had set up a tea shop at 5416M?
How much weight did we carry?
I took my best trekking pack ever and filled it with around 10 Kg of gear. The chef had 72 L and he thinks he was carrying 15 Kg.
Annapurna circuit fitness requirements?
We weren’t particularly fit. I was in my early 30s, the chef in his early 20s. We were probably of average fitness. We certainly hadn’t trained for the trek. We’d been travelling and drinking plenty of beer for 5 months previously, carrying backpacks, so that probably helped a little. Back home we were gym goers, but neither of us had done anything you could call training in the months leading up to the trek. I don’t honestly think that Annapurna circuit training is needed for most people, after all, it takes 3 weeks and the easiest parts come first, you gradually get fitter as you go so long as you don’t try to rush.
Did we get altitude sickness?
No. Chef had it badly in Peru, so we were wary, but we had no problems at all this time, you ascend slowly on the Annapurna Circuit Trek and can stop at any point for extra acclimatisation. The altitude does, obviously take its toll, breathing is very hard. We didn’t take Diamox, I don’t think we even knew what it was back then. Read about Diamox experiences at altitude here.
Did we see people get into trouble?
Yes, we saw people helicoptered out with altitude sickness, we saw people with frostbite. One guy damaged an ankle and couldn’t walk, he hired a pony and then fell off that, he was accident prone. Somebody else took on the pass without sun glasses, he had severe snow blindness and was in a lot of pain for a few days afterwards. There was a lot of sun and windburn, I suffered from that too, despite doing all the right things. There were people killed by an avalanche on the Annapurna Sanctuary trek while we were there.
Is the Annapurna Circuit Trek dangerous?
Yes, a bit. There were lots of precipitous drops and narrow paths that I sometimes felt may crumble, casting me into the abyss. We crossed a fresh mudslide at one point, we also saw an avalanche, from a distance. One of the villages we stayed in had been wiped out by a landslide, killing many, and then rebuilt. But is it more dangerous than crossing the road? Doubt it.
More Resources on Trekking and Nepal
Stupa Guest House, Kathmandu ( Hotels Combined affiliate link to find the best price)
Gear for Trekking and Nepal ( What gear do you REALLY need?)
Nepali Food (What to eat in Nepal)
Main Nepal Travel Page ( More information and tips on travel in Nepal)
Insurance for Trekking ( Serious travel insurance)
And now for more gratuitous Annapurna Circuit photos, I didn’t take many, I was shooting film on a pocket camera and once we got high it was just too cold to fiddle with it, but I think there are a few good ones.
Part of The Nomadic Family’s Favourite Places in the World photo carnival.
I know the Annapurna Circuit trek has changed since we were there, the roads reach more of these villages we visited, they are no longer isolated and there must be more people and better supply routes. When we were there everything was portered up to altitude on men’s backs, you wouldn’t believe how much these guys can carry up mountains in flimsy shoes ( did you see the guy carrying the chickens?). But it can’t be spoilt, can it? It was just too amazing to be spoilt, I’m sure many of the residents are very pleased to have the roads, we can’t begrudge them that. So, we’re back in Nepal soon, maybe before the end of the year. I can’t wait to take on the Annapurna circuit trek again.