nepal trek to remember

thorong pass nepalTips to help survive your Nepal trek include training before you travel, wearing-in your hiking boots well and being prepared to rough it. Thor Harrison actually won his Annapurna Base Camps trip in an Intrepid Express competition and loved his Nepal experience, even though his adventure took an unexpected turn…

“The best way to describe the Annapurna Circuit and Base Camp trek – epic! From scenery, to culture, to people on the trail, and of course the physical challenge. After being spoilt in a grand old refurbished hotel in Bandipur, by the third day we were into the real trekking.

We stayed in tea houses, of which there are many on the trails. A few strangely have “not recommended by Lonely Planet” on their signs, while others advertised ISD/STD phones. Though most of us trekkers chose to stay disconnected from the outside world for a while, we made an exception for the readily available Mars Bars that were our link with the west.

The tea houses provide a two-person room with simple bed and a blanket. The dining rooms have set “approved” menus, with the same things to eat all along the trail (get used to vegetarian fried rice). The only thing that changes are the prices, which go up steeply in correlation with the altitude increase. Servings are massive and much needed after a big trek. Also their own chai, called masalla, it is good for a warm up; spiced and laced with lots of sugar it was great to get you back on your feet!

Wake up was around 6am and walks were around five to six hours, with tea and lunch stops in between. Local guides have a thing called “Nepali-flat”, which describes the up and down nature of the trekking day ahead… we extended this term to other things like “Nepali-hot” to describe the showers! Since this trip I’m now a skilled quick dresser after showers; the water temperature starts at lukewarm and goes down from there – if lucky to be warm at all!

It’s a little cliched, but it is breathtaking scenery, and especially when we first spotted Annapurna II. It’s a tall one, with the snow being blown off the top just like the pictures and videos of Nepal you see – awesome!

After a few days of the nice scenery, including locals growing a lot of rice and all the vegetables for our meals, it started becoming more barren as vegetation struggled to survive at the higher altitudes.

On the acclimatisation day we walked up to a local hill and saw more of what we had now become accustomed to, but still took a stack of photographs each time!…. Annapurnas, Chulu, Manarsolu, Thorong Peak etc. Also at this point I had a good old heave at the top and felt bad at the other end; rescued by my travel doctor’s gastro kit. Having recovered well overnight, I then tempted fate with a cheese pizza the next night!

One of the highlights, if not the pinnacle achievement of Annapurna Circuit, is Thorong-La Pass. Setting off from Thorong Pedi (4450m/14,600 feet) at 4am, we scaled the pass at 5416m (17,770 feet) and were back down the other side to 3700m (12,140 feet) by 4pm – what a day!

Killer on the legs; not the way up but down mainly. Incredibly steep loose rock surface. Most said the hardest thing they’ve ever done. Well not quite hardest for me, but definitely tough even without a hint of altitude sickness – loved the challenge!

Back down we were on the windy side of the circuit and after a few days of some really mentally tough walks (long and plain moon-scapeish landscape) we reached the oasis of Tatopani (tato=hot, pani=water), yes, hot springs! Amazingly good, and an Everest beer was necessary to celebrate. At this point we hit the 200km (125 miles) mark too!

Launching from there, was seven to eight hours of steps rising 1600m (5250 feet) into the hills through some very nice valleys of villages and farms. All this before a really massive walk to a town, from which the next day was a 4am wake-up to visit famed Poon Hill. Poon Hill was packed with people and cameras – more cameras than people actually, as some people were there with three cameras and bundles of tripods to get the best shots! The sunrise over the mountains here was glorious and more than worth the cold, dark start (another insane amount of pics taken here, haha).

The plan was to be on our way to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), the last hurrah of the trip. But on our night at a Tadapani guest house (basically the turn-off to ABC) I experienced incredible shivering and couldn’t get warm. What ensued was probably the worst night of my life. Hot/cold and there was an immense pain down the right side of my chest – lying on my right side it got crushed and hurt, on my back it got stretched out and hurt, on my left side it was crushed and hurt again… I couldn’t win!

Woke up (or reluctantly got up – I was shivering like nothing else) feeling like DEATH, so at that point my trip to ABC was over…

One of the guides walked me down to Ghandruk and by the next afternoon I was in Pokhara at the tour company’s office – desperate to see a doctor and know what was going on. The doc was a legend. Except for having to tell me that the symptoms of pain in my right chest and dark flem equalled a good chance of pneumonia.

By time he found a place that had a working x-ray to confirm his diagnosis it was close to power-out time at 5pm, plus it was Sunday. When we arrived at the x-ray place with minutes to spare the doctor insisted “I don’t normally drive like this!”

So the diagnosis was moderate pneumonia, which meant 5-10 days in hospital on a drip, with a treatment of tablets and cough syrup. I dreaded this as my next tour started in a week and who could imagine what a third world hospital was like! Well it was like the doctor’s house, which was big with lots of single rooms, but it was just me. Plus the doctor was the nurse, so I got 24-hour special treatment and there was a menu for food, cable TV, a hot shower and a western toilet. Let’s just say I was in good care and much less worried!

As the rest of our group straggled back at their own pace, I made a good recovery and we all got to head back to Kathmandu together. One serious adventure and twenty-eight days later, we went our separate ways – me to join my Intrepid ‘Kathmandu to Delhi’ group, which was a truly awesome trip as well!”

Tour Nepal with Intrepid on trips like these great small group adventures:
Annapurna Base Camps – 28 days
Annapurna Sanctuary – 16 days

* photo of Thor Harrison, reaching Thorong Pass!

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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Nepal is one of the best destination around the world for adventure activities.'

Hi Dinah,

I have climbed Mt Kinabalu many times and also recently to Annapurna Base Camp. I would say that although Mt Kinabalu is perhaps a little more intense (just like it can be in Annapurna) the guides on the mountain are truly fabulous and short of carrying you, will definitely help you get up the mountain. Slow and steady is the key. There’s certainly no rush and the botanics and scenery are fabulous and worth taking the time to take a few pics whilst you have a breather.'

Hi Dinah,
Further to your comparison regarding the Annapurna trek and Mt. Kinabalu, it would be of my personal opinion that if you can trek the Annapurna circuit you should have no problems with Mt Kinabalu. I have trekked the Annapurna Circuit, Mt. Kinabalu and Mt. Kilimanjaro and found all 3 treks require a certain level of fitness. Mt Kinabalu is still a difficult 2 day trek. I would compare it to some of the harder days of the Annapurna circuit (for example similar to the day hikes leading up to and including Poon Hill or perhaps if you took the high route when you reach Pisang. Upper Pisang and Ghyaru (before Manang). The main difference with Mt Kinabalu is that the weather can be quite HOT making the climb a little more difficult (similar to the hot days trekked on the circuit) and the climb is continuous.. Up up up… and very steep in parts. There are plenty of rest spots on the way but no tea houses or lodges to stop and refuel. But the good news is you have the full day to climb and you can rest that night at the lodge before summiting the next morning….so take your time and should have no problems…. and after the 2 days it’s all over!!!!!! The good news is the effects of altitude should be less too (as you are just reaching above 4000m, compared to over 5000m on the Thorung La Pass).

At the very least I would attempt the hike and if fit and healthy try to summit the following day. At the very worst you can turn around and come back down if you are feeling unwell or the climb becomes too difficult. But in my honest opinion if you have trekked the Annapurna’s you will have a great chance of summitting Mt. Kinabalu and witnessing an amazing sunrise. (and sunset the night prior).

Keep up your aerobic fitness, dress prepared, carry enough water and you have an amazing experience on Mt. Kinabalu.

Best of luck!
Kind Regards
Karen (Intrepid reservations)'

I was interested in your comments on your trip as I have also walked part of the Anapurna track. I found it difficult in places but worth the effort. I’m about to climb Mt Kinabalu in Borneo and was wondering if you have done that and whether you could compare the difficulty of, say, two days of Anapurna with the Mt Kinabalu climb? I’m just not sure if I will be able to do the Mt Kinabalu climb.

Jane – Just a quick follow up with what Sue said; there is one very early start on the way to Thorong-La Pass which you “night” launch approx 4am (sunrise 6:xx am) and come back down the other side 12hrs later! Poon hill was about 5am and optional because it’s an up-down trip (one lady stayed warm back at the guest house).
There was a 60yr old man with 58yr old wife and 2 daughters who did out trip – to be honest it’s rated tough for a reason and I think the mother found it very challenging, but full credit to her for going in the first place and not really missing a beat!

Susan – definitely a fun trip for the young (or old), fit and adventurist kind! I’m jealous of anyone who’s gone to Bhutan 🙂

Hi Susan and Jane,
Thanks so much for your comments and I just wanted to reply with some extra info.

Firstly, there’s normally no night climbing involved in Nepal, but there are some optional early mornings to witness incredible sunrises.

And if you are reasonably active then don’t assume you can’t trek Nepal. I have fairly heavy asthma and didn’t want that to prevent me from trekking – so I did plenty of training before my trip and went to a specialist to get it under control and learn how to manage it properly. It turns out I didn’t complete the trek – but this was partly due to altitude sickness (which can affect anyone) and mainly due to heavy snow, which meant I got to return with the group anyway. I still rate it as one of my most exhilarating adventures!

Best wishes,
Sue – Intrepid Express Editor'

Really interesting to hear the truth for a change. Maybe this is not the trip for me who is just over 50 and suffer with Asthma, but maybe my daughter who is traveling thru Thailand in the mountains. I can always refer to your trip to gauge my adventure to Nepal or Bhutan. Thank you for being honest.'

Great Blog….is there any night climbing involved?

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