Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Annapurna Circuit

Saturday 1 May: Leaving Throungla Guesthouse in Beni Sahar I catch the bumpy local bus to the trail head at Bhulbule for a gentle first day strolling across perilous foot bridges along the River Marshyangdi then steeply uphill for lunch at the ridge-top village of Bahundandae and on to complete the seven miles to Ghermu (3,707ft).
Day 2: Following the river valley I pass marijuana plants growing wild like weeds on the pathside and continue under a welcoming Buddhist chorton for another seven uphill miles to where the river opens in a broad plain at Tal, and a cosy room in the Paradise Hotel (5,577ft), perched just a little higher than Ben Nevis.
Day 3: Today I meet two Brits with mountain guide and porter, Jane, Mark and Ojay. We carry on for six miles, past sappers placing blasting charges to build a new road to China thus scarring the National Park for ever. We overnight at
Danaqyu (7,218ft). It transpires that Jane is a quality 400 metre sprinter from my old running club, Belgrave Harriers, and Mark says he has been described in Scotland as an "English woose".
Day 4: We pass mule supply trains and delightful gompas along the seven-mile uphill stretch to Chame
. At 8,891ft it's twice as high as Ben Nevis and breathing becomes increasingly difficult.
Day 5: It's nine miles to Pissang where I buy a thick slice of Yak cheese - delicious, and on to Upper Pisang
(10,860ft) for the night.
Day 6 and 7:
After a twelve-mile hike we reach the Tilcho Hotel in Manang (11,614ft) where I attend an illuminating HRC (Himalayan Rescue Association) lecture on AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), HACE and HAPE. The views here are literally breathtaking and we enjoy a relaxing acclimatisation day taking only a short hike to view Chongkor glacier and it's turquoise terminal moraine lake. AMS kicks in around 8,000ft but my blood oxygen level and heart rate are okay at 89% and 87 respectively. We see the blanket-wrapped corpse of a Nepalese cook draped limply between two bamboo poles. He's being carried down for post-mortem - too much alcohol at this altitude can be fatal.
Day 8: Today is a steep six-mile climb, passing prayer wheels and gompas, to Yak Kharkha
for lunch and on to Ledar for the night. At 13,779ft this is three-times higher than Ben Nevis.
Day 9: Thorung Phedi
is our next lunch stop on the five-mile climb to High Camp (15,912ft) where we pose for photos. There are fine views of Ganggapurna (24,455ft), Annapurna II (26,040ft), III and IV, all more than five-and-a-half times higher than Ben Nevis. We are at breath-stealing altitude and Mark has a splitting headache, the first sign of AMS. Ibuprofen helps but it only masks the symptoms.
Day 10: A tough 4:30 am early morning ascent to the freezing-cold exposed summit of Thorung-la Pass. At 17,769ft (5,416m) this is four times higher than Ben Nevis and as high as I have ever been, but we make it. I rush down the long steep descent in search of richer air and complete the nine miles to Muktinath
(3,800ft) in short time. A piping-hot shower and good food awaits at the Hotel Muktinath.
Day 11: It's a twelve-mile stroll-in-the-park down to Jomsom and the circuit is complete. Mark and Jane fly homeward but I meet up with young gap travellers Sophie, Josh and Max from Chelmsford. A parting gift from Jane is Rory Stewart's travelogue The Places Between for which I'm grateful. It tells the story of the intrepid Scottish author's walk across central Afghanistan in mid-winter, should be a good read.
Day 12: The path now meets the flat, dusty and wind-swept new road so we take a four-hour bus ride to Ghasa, walk for an hour, then jump on a jeep
for an hour to end the day soothing aching muscles over a cold beer in the hot springs at Tatopani. Three hours later we are sipping local apple brandy in the Hotel Himalaya to wash down yet another good high-carbohydrate dhall bhatt dinner. The bus stops en-route so that we can look at Annapurna I. A guy wakes his sleeping American girl friend to see the view - "Don't wake me up to see another fucking mountain, I've been looking at mountains for fifteen days! - wake me up when you see a beach."
Pictures of the around Annapurna trek.

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