Weeks of trekking Annapurna Circuit & Base Camp (ABC) is hardly an express!

Express is used in several forms here, as it’s the name of Intrepid Travel’s email newsletter “Intrepid Express”, it also reflects the amount of time they gave me to organise things when I received an email titled “Intrepid Express YOU WIN”. Pretty exciting title, but was it real and what did it entail…?

Congratulations! You’re this week’s winner of the Intrepid Express “Win a Trip” competition. You’ve won one place on ‘Annapurna Base Camps’ departing Kathmandu on 17 November 2008!

This was on the 15th October 2008(!), yes, now to express organise my life for a big trip!
After calming down from shock and excitement, it was first time to talk to the boss, I was going on holidays and not going to miss it for the world, because come on, Nepal! Cool !!!

(To be honest I entered so much, so desperately, it didn’t really matter what I was entering for so Nepal was a pleasant surprise..! Though there was more to it for me and dear boss in that it was no small jaunt; the trip I’d won was 28 days.)

So the last form of express; well it highlights the exact opposite of what this trip is; it’s a slow stumble for 3+ week, all walking.. Yep, imagine looking at this vista below and thinking how long it will take to get to the other side and around the distant corner of this giant rock boulder field and not a vehicle to give you a hand, in sight:

Nepal and India 344 (Small)

Or to walk down this endless road knowing there’s 8hrs of distant corners like this to come:

Nepal and India 341 (Small)

OK you get the idea. It was something else though, such wilderness puts into perspective the speck you are and the world that goes on around oblivious to your existence !

The Trek! (adapted excerpt from a Blog post submitted to Intrepid):

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 physical ability.

After only the 3rd day or so (after being spoilt in a really grand old fully refurbished hotel in Bandipur) we were into the real trekking. And as soon as the sun went down (4pm or so) it got cold and we started pulling all my warm gear out.
Now I’m also a skilled quick dresser after showers on the trek; the water temp starts at lukewarm and as the journey goes down goes, so does the water temps – if lucky to be warm at all!

The tea houses we stayed at were everywhere (a few have, bizarrely, “not rec. but lonely planet guide book” written on the signs!?!?) and so are ads for “std/isd phones” – most of us trekkers choosing to stay disconnected from the outside world for a while!! Albeit Mars Bars sold everywhere kept us in link with the West when the occasion permitted 🙂

Guest houses provide a 2 person room, simple bed and a blanket, and in the communal area/dining room have a set “approved” menus with the same things to eat all along the trail (get used to veg fried rice!!), the only thing changes are the prices which go up steeply in correlation with the altitude increase (and back down again). Servings are massive and much needed after a big days trek! Also the tea of the region ‘chai’ (masala) it is good for a warm up; spiced and laced with lots of sugar it was great to put you back on your feet!

We were playing – a lot – of cards, heaps actually, usually before retiring to be like pensioners at about 8pm max!

Wake up was around 6-7am and walks are around 5-6hrs with tea, and lunch stops in between. Local guides have a thing called “nepali-flat” which describes the decent up and down nature of the days trekking ahead.. we extended this term to other things like “nepali-hot” to describe the showers!!
It is a little cliched but it is pretty breathtaking scenery, and especially when after the first few day we spot ANNAPURNA II, which is a tallie (8 of the 10 highest mountains in the world are in Nepal), with the snow being blown off the top just like the pictures and videos of Nepal you see – awesome.

After a few day of the nice scenery (inc. locals growing a lot of rice and all the veg in our meals, in addition to walking through fields of marijuana!) it starts getting more barren as vegetation struggles to live at the higher altitudes.

On the acclimatisation day we walk up to a local hill and see more of what we’ve now become accustomed to, but still take a stack of pics of 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.. Ahem); rescued by travel doc’s gastro kit. Recovering well overnight, I then tempted fate with a cheese pizza the next night!!

One of, if not the pinnacle achievements/highlights of APCkt is Thorong-La Pass launching 4am 29/11/08 (Thorong Pedi 4450m), we left to the pass top (5,416m) and back down the other side (3,700m) at 4pm – what a day!
Killer on the legs; not the way up but down mainly. Incredibly steep loose rock/dusty surface. Most said the hardest thing they’d ever done, understandbly pretty . Well not quite hardest for me but definitely tough (luckily not even a hint of AMS too :-)) – love the challenge!!

Back down we’re 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 reach the oasis of tatopani (tato=hot, pani=water), yes, hot springs! Amazingly good, and an Everest beer is necessary to celebrate. At this point we hit the 200km mark too!

Launching from there, was 7-8hrs of steps rising 1,600m 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 is a 4am wake up to visit famed Poon Hill. Poon Hill is packed with people and cameras – more cameras than people actually, as some people (dare i say keen Japanese!) are there with 3 cameras and bundles of tripods to get the best shots! The sunrise over the mountains here is glorious and more than worth the cold dark start (another insane amount of pics taken here haha).

We’re now on our way to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), the last hurrah of the trip.

Well on the night of the 5th Dec at a Tadapani guest house (basically the turn-off to ABC) i had incredible shivering and couldn’t get warm. What ensued was probably the worst nights sleep 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 then the trip to ABC was over…
The 2hr walk down to Ghandruk with one of the guides took 5 or so hours (normally 2-ish) and was not helped by the fact the guide (I’m assuming accidentally of course) took us ACROSS the slope in 2 diagonal movements down a really tough (for me) scratchy chicken track to Komrong, instead of direct down to Ghandruk!! Yes, kom long wrong way..!!!
Anyway that nights sleep was better but 3 times i woke up sweating the most i can recall in my life – absolutely saturated.
So the next days walking was better and by the afternoon i was in the main city Pokhara at the tour company’s place – desperate to see a doc to know what was going on.
The doc was a legend. Except for telling me the fact 2 symptoms of pain in my right chest and dark phlem = good chance of pneumonia.
By time he found a place that had a working x-ray to fully confirm it was close to power out time of 5pm, plus it was Sunday!
He said he ‘doesn’t normally drive like this!’ as we got in the x-ray place door with mins to spare.
So the diagnosis was moderate pneumonia, which means 5-10 days in hospital to get drip, tablets and cough syrup. i dreaded this as my next tour started 13/14th and who could image what a 3rd world hospital is like!
Well it’s like the doc’s house which is big, lots of single rooms, was just me, and he’s the nurse so i get 24hr special treatment! Plus there was a menu for food, cable TV, hot shower, western toilet.etc
Let just say I’m was in good care and less/not worried!

As the rest of the group straggled back (there were 5 different groups at one stage as i came down, another couple followed, 2 daughters stayed on the mountain not going to ABC, and others carried on to the base came…), I made a good recovery and we all got to leave as group back to KTM!

One serious adventure 28 days later we went our separate ways – me to KTM-DEL which was a truly awesome trip as well.

So that’s it in a nutshell!

At the time this was a new trip for Intrepid and I enjoyed being a guinea pig! Himalayan Encounters & leader Bim was fantastic as well. I
Back in 2008 I had struggles talking to an Intrepid person who’d visited Nepal – even called the head office with no luck – so I welcome any person looking to visit Nepal to call me. Only have good things to say 🙂

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