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How to trek to Annapurna Base Camp

Photographers Jonny and Hannah Verman travel the globe in search of breathtaking images - and challenges. And nowhere on earth does breathtaking like Nepal and the Himalayas. In the first of a series of adventure articles, this is their account of a high-endurance hike to the Annapurna Base Camp.

 

If you’re looking to test your limits and awaken your senses, there’s perhaps nowhere better on earth than the Himalayas. The highest region on the planet offers not only the highest intensity trekking and trail running landscape, but a rich and rewarding cultural experience.

 

We’d been travelling for four months already when we reached Nepal, but no destination had us as excited as this one. It was high on the bucket list for both of us.

 

The starting point: Kathmandu 

Like most making their way to Annapurna Base Camp (or ABC, as it’s known), our starting point was Kathmandu. We flew to the Nepalese capital from Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

 

 

If you’re on a longer expedition like we were, or just prefer not to fly with all your equipment, the Thamel area of Kathmandu is a great place to find all the bits you need for your trek at a good price. We could rent warm sleeping bags and bought hiking poles, water bottles, even warm yak-wool hats. There may also have been a few Snickers bars purchased, just to keep energy levels high.

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Preparing for the trek to Annapurna Base Camp  

You don’t have to be a marathon runner to take on the Annapurna Base Camp trek, but a good base level of fitness is required, and the more you prepare, the more you’ll enjoy it. We split the trekking part of our journey to Annapurna Base Camp over eight days, covering over 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) in total with over 27,000 feet (8200 meters) of elevation. Getting in some hill runs and long treks with plenty of ascending are important to prepare your legs for the demands of Himalayan trekking to this scale.

 

We had decided to trek on our own with no guides or porters, though many others did. This is one of the advantages of the Annapurna Base Camp trek – we found it relatively straightforward to navigate and our bags were light enough to go it alone. We had researched the journey enough to be aware of the avalanche chutes that crossed some of the paths and made sure we left early enough before snow melt caused any problems. Family members had our itinerary just in case of any problems. Had we not contacted them soon after our expected return to town from the mountains, they would have raised the alarm.

 

It’s always recommended to seek advice on mountain treks if you are unsure of the terrain. If you’re not used to scaling such heights, guides are also good at keeping pacing right to avoid altitude sickness – and spotting the signs if it does strike. Because of the need to gradually acclimatize to the altitude, and the tough terrain, trail running in this part of the world is only for seriously experienced mountain runners.

 

 

The (rocky) road to Annapurna Base Camp

The next day we embarked on the long bus ride to Pokhara, the gateway to trekking the Himalayas. It proved to be the bumpiest ride of our lives – no exaggeration. We were constantly slipping off our seats and there was no chance of sleep. The mountain passes are congested, lined with colorful trucks carrying goods from India and Nepal. The air rang with their musical horns. 10 hours later, we arrived in Pokhara.

 

Pokhara to Phedi 

The town of Pokhara is bustling but also incredibly beautiful, framed by mountains with a large lake where colorful wooden boats row to and fro.

 

From Pokhara, you take another bus to the village of Phedi. This is where our expedition would really begin.

 

It was back on the bus the next day, travelling to the village of Phedi. En route, locals jump on selling fruits and vegetables. One lady bought a large bag of oranges and shared them around. We were the only ones to get off at Phedi, which first appears like the middle of nowhere. But hey, you don’t come to the Himalayas to stay on the beaten track.

 

Not far onto the trail and we met our first beautiful Himalayan mountain dog. It was love at first sight and she followed us for the whole hike. Sections of steps are so steep they take your breath away. On our journey there was a lady selling chocolate at the top of the ascent. The views over the rice terraces are like something out of a painting. Along the way we passed kids who were walking home from school smiling and laughing. 

 

Teahouse trekking 

Our next trekking destination was Dhampus, a two-to-three hour hike away. During the trek we stayed at guesthouses known as Teahouses. These small hotels offer a bed and basic meals for as little as $4. Bathrooms are usually shared and get more and more basic as the altitude increases. Shared dining areas are traditionally heated by a yak dung stove, which isn’t as bad as it sounds, but can make the room smoky. We planned which village we would hike to each day to ensure we could find accommodation in good time.

 

The place we decided to stay had a small Himalayan mountain pup who nibbled at our legs. We ordered some roasted potatoes with vegetables, had a yak milk hot chocolate and watched a storm roll in. It grew so fierce that the rain woke us several times in the night. We wrapped ourselves up in our sleeping bags as the lightning flashed bright and thunder echoed in the valley below.

 

Waking up in Dhampus to be greeted by the most incredible views of Machapuchare, known as the Fish Tail, which stands at almost 7000m is unforgettable. We recommend getting up early and quickly heading outside to watch the sunrise if the weather allows.

 

We set off from Dhampus for our first full day’s hike to Landruk. We soon encountered the first official checkpoint where you need to show your hiking permits. The route winds through Rhododendron forests and if you’re lucky you can spot monkeys playing in the trees.

 

Mountain weather can change in the blink of an eye. We found that getting up at sunrise when the sky was clear and the mountains visible was the best time to start walking. When it got to midafternoon, the clouds would start rolling in and the chance of rain falling on the trails increased. We recommend starting early, that way we could stay mostly dry and avoided avalanche risks that might come with the rain.

 

 

Our second full day was a nine-and-a-half-mile hike which took us around four and a half hours. A first ascent before heading back down into another valley definitely adds some serious vertical mileage to the hike.

 

Our journey between teahouses continued in a similar fashion for the next few days. On days three, four and five we covered a similar distance, rising more rapidly in elevation on day five as we reached Machapuchare Base Camp, our final destination before ABC. You can see our full itinerary listed below.

 

Throughout the trek, the biting of lactic acid became a familiar feeling. We found the best way to counter it was to focus on the progress we’d made towards our final goal. The dramatic scenery was a nice distraction too of course. And knowing that we were making some serious physical gains was also factor that kept us motivated to push on.

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Arriving in Annapurna  

Annapurna Base Camp sits at a dizzying 4,130 meters. Also known as Annapurna sanctuary, the Annapurna Base Camp is a sacred area for the local people. It feels like a sanctuary in the truest sense, totally shielded from the world beyond by a wall of giant Himalayan peaks, several climbing to 7000 meters. Flanked by these giants is the even more imposing figure of Annapurna I – the tenth tallest mountain in the world at more than 8000 meters.

 

On the way to Annapurna Base Camp you climb above the snow line to where the camp sits in a rare flat spot surrounded by snow and mountains and also a large glacier running down from Annapurna I. The mountains seem to roar as they echo the rotors of the helicopters that come in and out of the base camp each morning.

What to wear: Weather Jacket
Such high altitudes mean plummeting temperatures, so layering up is key when you reach base-camp level. The On Weather Jacket provided an extra outer shield against wind and rain without adding extra weight.
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When you make it to ABC, a photo in front of the welcome and altitude signs is pretty much compulsory before you head into the permanent base camp, which is made up of several teahouses.

 

Of course, the photos cannot do justice to the experience of meeting so many amazing people on our journey. The local people were so kind. On our return journey a lady we stayed with baked me a cake for my birthday. Her renowned baking has earned her the nickname ‘Sugar Momma’.

 

After our stay at ABC we had a mammoth trekking day, covering 15 miles to reach Sugar Momma’s teahouse. The aches were easier to bear knowing the following day’s hike would be shorter. We finished with a jeep ride back to Kathmandu, now carrying with us not just our backpacks, but the memories of an incredible adventure.

 

See more of Jonny and Hannah’s travels at findingouradventure.com or on Instagram (@findingouradventure). And watch this space for more stories from other contributors pushing their boundaries around the globe.

 

 

Jonny and Hannah’s road to Annapurna Base Camp 

 

Day 1 | Phedi to Dampus | Approx. 2 miles (3.2 km) with 1,800 ft (500 m) of elevation.

Day 2 | Dhampus to Landruk | Approx. 9.3 miles (15 km) with 2,650 ft (808 m) of elevation.

Day 3 | Landruk to Chhomrong | Approx. 6.2 miles (10 km) with 4,150 ft (1265 m) of elevation.

Day 4 | Chhomrong to Dovan | Approx. 6.6 miles, (10.6 km) with 3,400 ft (1036 m) of elevation.

Day 5 | Dovan to Machapuchare Base Camp | Approx. 7.3 miles (11.7 km) with 7,050 ft (of elevation.

Day 6 | Machapuchare Base Camp to Annapurna Base Camp | Approx. 2.1 miles (3.4 km) with 1,500 ft (457 m) of elevation.

Day 7 | Annapurna Base Camp back to Chhomrong | Approx. 14.7 miles (23.7 km) with 5050 ft (1540 m) of elevation.

Day 8 | Chhomrong to where we could hail a jeep back to Pokhara | Approx. 4.1 miles (6.6 km) with 1,530 ft (466 m) of elevation.