Why did we choose the Annapurna Circuit?
Having visited Nepal twice previously, Ryan had always regretted not doing what is generally considered to be one of the best, most ‘classic’ and easily accessible trek – the Annapurna Circuit. Ryan had completed the Annapurna Basecamp trek before, which although beautiful and challenging, he felt it did not have the same diversity of climate and landscape or the varied and traditional settlements along the way. Sadly on the Basecamp trek, most of the ‘villages’ are set up mainly for the needs of trekkers. Also, since his previous trips, Ryan had read ‘Mustang’ by Michael Piesel, which was further incentive to visit the region. The fact that the Annapurna circuit passes through Lower Mustang, and Kagbeni, the gateway to Upper Mustang, was an exciting prospect. It also has the challenge of being the highest trekkable mountain pass in the world (crickey)!
You can see the Annapurna Circuit trek and the Annapurna Basecamp trek that Ryan had done previously on the map below.
Using guides and porters?
We thought long and hard about whether to use a guide and porter for the trek or to go it alone. Along the trek it seemed to be pretty much half and half, in terms of those who did use these services and those who did not. Our reasoning was threefold: firstly we liked the idea of trekking just the two of us and enjoying the scenery at our own pace, secondly, we wanted to put money directly into the hands of local people (guesthouse owners, family run restaurants etc) rather than paying a trekking tour company and thirdly, it is such a famous and well trodden trek that we didn’t think we necessarily needed one. Fortunately we didn’t get lost, we made it back in one piece and managed to to the trek within our (small) budget.
Facts, figures and general trek information
Total elevation: 5416m (almost as high a Mount Kilimanjaro at 5895m)
Biggest ascent in a day: 1630m (a bit higher than Ben Nevis at 1344m)
Total Miles (Besi Sahar to Birethanti): 122 miles – although we did cheat and do a short downhill section, from Tukuche to Ghasa (about 10 miles) on a local bus due to the dust and sandstorms. The length of our trek is roughly the same as walking from London to Weston Super Mare, Somerset or to Newport, South Wales (if there were a few mountains in the way!)
Valleys trekked: Marsyangi Valley and Kali Gandaki Valley.
Districts it passes through: Lamjung, Manang, Mustang, Myagdi and Kaski.
Key mountains viewed (over 7000m): Annapurna Range (Annapurna I-IV and Annapurna South), Dhaulagiri, Machhapuchhre, Manaslu, Gangapurna, Nilgiri and Tilicho Peak.
Recommended time for trekking full circuit: 14-21 days (although many people cut this short by getting a jeep up part of the beginning of the route or stopping and getting a plane back to Pokhara from Jomsom). Our trek was 15 days.
Fastest time trekked: 72 hours and 4 minutes (Seth Wolpin). You can read his account here.
Climates it passes through: Tropical, alpine and arctic.
Ethnic groups encountered along the path: Brahmin, Chhetri, Gurung, Magar, Managba, Thakali and Tibetan Buddhist.
Types of accommodation: Range from very basic teahouses, which are best to avoid but are few and far between these days. Almost every settlement has at least one guesthouse, which offers very cheap rooms on the basis that you have your meals there as well (prices for the room itself range from 200-500 rupees, which is about £1.25-£3, but we even managed to get one room for free!). We would reckon that about half the guesthouses we stayed in had hot showers.
Food: It seems that the menu choices had widened significantly over the last few years and we could happily order soups, pastas, pizzas and noodles in most places. However our favourite, and the best re-fuelling dish was the traditional meal of Dal Bhat. This included a lentil dish, rice, curry, pickles, greens – and as many refills as you could manage! The locals like to remind you that ‘Dal Bhat power – 24 hour’, and they are not wrong!
Packing: We packed light, as we were carrying our own things. The time of year and mild weather meant that we didn’t need sleeping bags and although we took coats and thermals, we only needed them for an hour or so on the high pass day. For the majority of the trek we were very hot – trekking mainly in shorts and t-shirt.