Home > Travel > Annapurna Base Camp Trek

Annapurna Base Camp Trek

I landed in Kathmandu, Tribuhvan international airport on 21st December 2012 early afternoon. After getting through immigration and picking up the baggage I went through exit door looking for my friend Agasta who is awaiting me. Soon I spot him in the crowd. It was nice warm greeting after two years. We took the tiny taxi from airport and of we went to infamous Thamel district in central Kathmandu. Not much has changed since my last visit. City looks like war zone. Lots of dirt, rubble, dust, bad roads and traffic. I spent the night in Thorong Peak hotel, in the heart of Thamel but nicely tucked away from the main street. Agasta invited me to his place for dinner. His wife cooked my favourite sherpa stew and after dinner we had some Nepali whisky. Feeling like home. Life is good.

Flight to Pokhara next day is smooth. Windows on the plane are so dirty, that it is impossible to make any usable pictures. There is not much on on today, only short stroll in the city and along the shores of Phewa lake. Air is dusty and horizon covered in haze. I didn’t even get a glimpse of the mountains. Pokhara is the second biggest city in Nepal, although cleaner than Kathmandu, yet still suffering from dust, dirt, rubbish and regular electricity outages.

My body, still still functioning according Singaporean time, woke up pretty early. I quickly run to the lake to take some early morning shots. Then back to hotel for breakfast and after that I meet our porter Dawa. Next 60 minutes we spend driving in the smallest taxi in the world to Nayapol, the trekking starting point. Around 10:30 am the adventure continues on foot.

Passing several settlements, forest, hillsides. after few hours we had lunch at guest house of interesting name “Welcome to See you Hostel”. Also almost every guest house has word “welcome” split into two words, something like “well come” or even “well.come”. I found it funny 🙂 After lunch we climbed up long rigorous steps to a small village called Uleri where we stayed over night. I really liked the people living there. I felt a sense of community that holds together and works together towards common goal. Food was excellent, as always. A warm fireplace just added something on top of already nice experience. Agasta and Dawa had huge portion of “Dokeh” (I think that is how it is spelled). Dokeh is a traditional “mountain” food. Nepali people living in the mountain regions eat it often as it is rich on carbs and energy, thus well suited for the mountain life. Tt looks like chocolate cake (according to them) but to me it looked like …..ehm. You know what. I had a bite and just by itself it is fairly tasteless however they eat it with veggies, curry and some sauce (maybe dahl). I found the portion they got big enough for entire expedition but the managed to finish it all. Amazing….is this the secret to strength in mountains?

We wake up next morning bright and early. After quick breakfast and hot coffee we left the village and continued our ascent to Gorephani, which is the largest village on the route. Something like “Namche Bazar” of Annapurna region however not nearly as big. We walk mostly in Rhododendron forest. I encountered something similar in Tengboche (Everest region) however there were Rhododendron bushes as opposed to trees. At Gorephani we stayed in a big guest house with bunch of other groups. This village has an excellent view of Dhaulagiri (8,167m), the seventh highest peak in the world. I walked around a lot and tried take pictures from every possible location, not forgetting the interesting subjects in the village along the way. In the evening all people gathered in big dining where we sat by fireplace (lucky ones who managed to snap the place). I tried the Nepali Roxy (lical drink made from millet) for the first time. As it was the Christmas Eve, it was welcome addition to dinner. Nepali Roxy tastes like rice wine. Not very strong, not very tasty for European mouth but still good nevertheless. We didn’t stay up late, since early next morning we were about to hike up to Poon Hill, a traditional viewing point of Annapurna Himalayan range. If we are lucky and have visibility we can spot another eight thousand-er in the distance, Manaslu, at 8,156m the eight highest mountain in the world.

Next morning I wake up way too early. First, the sleep hasn’t been good. Gorephani is in 3210m and thinner air affects good sleep when not acclimatised to it. Second, I forgot to set my watch to Nepali time. Anyway, I crawled out of sleeping bag at 3am morning (as I determined later when I realised my mistake). Got dressed and headed out. I was surprised that I didn’t see people gathering but on the other side I really enjoyed quiet although freezing night. The sky was full of stars however the light pollution from guest house and other buildings around prevented the full on enjoyment or perhaps sight of Milky Way. I didn’t have headlamp with me so I opted to stay in lit areas or close to it and prevent broken ankle or leg. Eventually, the time has come and people started gathering for Poon Hill hike, which is another few hundred meters vertical distance from Gorephani. We climbed it pretty fast since it was very cold and the workout kept us warm. Around 7am the theatre performance began. The view was breathtaking. Yes it is a very touristy spot (similar to Mt Bromo sunrise spot) but still. Sight of Himalayan peaks lit by the first sun rays is something you don’t get to see every day. And as always I say, no sunset beats early morning light. It is just beyond comprehension how beautiful it was and I don’t think any photograph make justice to what was unfolding in front of us. Sadly, sunrise is a fast process and time has come to head down for breakfast and then start another leg of the trek.

Trek to Tadaphani was not eventful. We dropped to 2680m. Next 2-3 days we spend in similar altitude before we go up above 4000m to Annapurna Base Camp. This is very good way of trekking because by the time we reach the base camp, we will be well acclimatised. Going up to fast increases the chance of getting AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Tadaphani is a small village with good view of Annapurna South and Fish Tail given the good weather conditions.

Our target for another trek day was Chomrong (2170m). Although almost in same altitude as Tadaphani, it sits on completely different mountain rib. So it means get all the way down to valley and then climb it back again. I was surprised to find a German bakery in the village. Cinnamon roll was a welcome change to rather boring food routine. It was nearly frozen but tasted bloody good. After ice cold shower I warmed up by fire, drying clothes, brewing tea and drinking roxy. I was the only tourist guest there, all others that gathered around the fire were locals, guides and porters. I loved every bit of it, although I didn’t understand what they were talking about, Agasta here and there tried to translate the main point of discussion to me. Every time they mentioned roxy, the grin on our faces turned into broad smile and we happily had another sip.

I found myself walking in deep in the canyon that leads to Annapurna Base Camp the next day. As on many previous locations we walked down what we climbed the day before and then climbed it back again on yet another mountain rib. We made couple of stops to rest and replenish. About half way we learned that there might not be enough room in Himalayan guest house (where we intend to overnight) for everybody. To gain advantage over other people on the way I rushed ahead to reach the guest house first and book the room. I was literally running up the hill/stairs. To my surprise I did quite well, although out of the breath I was not that tired (my endurance is not the best in the world). I reached the “hotel”, booked the room and we were safe for the day. As the place was deep in the valley it got limited time of sunshine and it felt quite depressive. I was quite happy to leave the place and get on with rest of the trek. About half way to Machapuchare Base Camp (MBC) we left the tree line behind. Now it looked more “mountainish”. Following the river stream uphill (probably of glacial origin), crossing few side streams on the way we caught up with other group who’s lead guide had to go down due to his AMS (acute mountain sickness) symptoms. Upon reaching the Machapuchare Base Camp at noon, Agasta said “very fast walk”. I was quite pleased with myself. Everest trek two years prior was not so smooth for me, but that was of course in much higher altitudes and with no acclimatisation stops. Still I felt in a great shape. There was a discussion whether to continue to Annapurna Base Camp the same day. I voted for staying at MBC. We had time, this stop was planned so I didn’t see reason to rush up the mountain. The place was very nice, with rocks, grassy hillsides covered partially by snow and with good view of Fishtail. There was lot to see and photograph especially on very nice and sunny day we enjoyed. I was running around the camp, climbing the ridge above it and looked into huge glacial valley between the camp and Fishtail. The sheer size of mountains is just breathtaking. After the sun hides behind the mountains the temperature drops rapidly and soon it reaches zero before dropping even further. Weather also tends to change in matter of seconds. We are in Himalayas, it can be unpredictable. I remember the morning in Dingboche two years ago. We arrived in a scorching heat and by the time we had dinner we were freezing in the dining room. Next morning we woke up to a different landscape, covered in few inches of fresh snow, at the end of May.
I was photographing a sun just hiding behind one of the smaller peaks. In less than 30 seconds that peak was completely hidden behind thick fog and clouds which were rolling into valley at astonishing speed. Cold and freezing wind forced me to go in, warm up with cup of tea and fill my stomach with huge portion of dahl bat.

Sleep was restless that night. I woke up couple of times finding myself gasping for air. I slowed down my breathing and took few deep breaths. At least on two occasions I was awaken by a distant rumbling which I learned later was sound of avalanche. And finally about 5am it was a dog barking. I felt for the poor bugger as he followed us all the way from Chomrong. At MBC the dog was quite sick. Yes, even dogs get mountain sickness. I dragged myself out of the sleeping bag and went outside to check on weather. I really wanted to shoot Milky Way and at this altitude I though the sky will be pretty clear. So it was but also the moon was extremely bright and it made lots of stars “disappear”.

I washed my face in icy water, packed the sleeping bag and got ready. Hour later people started to wake up. Quick coffee followed by breakfast and short after we were on our way to Annapurna Base Camp. As it turned out, it was not that far away. Well rested, we managed to cover the distance fast. Landscape was lit by beautiful morning sun and now I really felt I am in Himalayas. Soon the nearly 4km high face of Annapurna I emerged from horizon and I was looking at the most deadly mountain in the world. Although I couldn’t see the peak due to parallax, it was huge. Technically not the hardest mountain but it is very avalanche prone and frequent weather changes turned it into a beast in the course of history. Less than 150 people climbed the mountain, more than 50 died trying.

Base camp is a bunch of stone built buildings with simple rooms, dining and kitchen attached to each building. Its sitting at 4130m. Behind the camp is a huge ridge which is the edge of glacial valley starting at Annapurna’s footstep. Glacier is mostly covered by rock and dust and sits at the bottom of the valley, constantly on the move. Climbing the mountain means to rappel down into the valley, cross the glacier and start the climb on the other side. Already quite dangerous prospects as glaciers are known to be very unstable.

I wanted to take advantage of sunlight and climbed the ridge together with Agasta all the way to where grass stops growing. we stopped right at the foothill of Annapurna South. It was (according to Agasta) about another 200 vertical metres above base camp. We took couple of snapshots. As we sat there in the grass we heard sudden rumbling. Quickly turning around I spotted a bunch of rocks and ice sliding down the glacier on Annapurns South’s face. It happened just in a blink of a second. Enough to grab few (hopefully ok) shots. Just behind the base camp sits the memorial site for climbers. The biggest one belongs to Anatoli Boukreev, one of the best climbers of his time that was swept from the mountain by avalanche in 1997 and never seen again. It was quite humbling moment for me. I stood there few minutes in silence to pay my respects to a man who single handedly saved 3 lives during 1996 faithful season on Everest. Most leading climbers at the time it was described as almost in human effort and I think this man was a hero (no matter what Jon Krakauer and his likes say about him).

You do not understand what kind of person Anatoli really was. You are American, he was Russian. You’re a newcomer to the Eight-thousanders, he at this level was the best of all time. You are a normal mountaineer, he was a great athlete and an animal of survival. You have financial security, he has known true hunger .. I think you’re like one of those who, after reading a medical book, claims to teach one of the most skilled surgeons in the world how to be a doctor … if you really want to pass judgment on the decisions taken by Anatoli in 1996, remember this: No client of his expedition died.” – Simone Moro

I returned to the camp for lunch. I put my camera on the table and went to grab something from room when I heard already familiar rumbling and screaming from outside “avalanche, avalanche”. I rushed out, grabbed camera and pointed towards shown direction. It was Machapuchare with huge snow cloud forming on it’s slope. At that point my camera turned into “Kalashnikov”. The avalanche was quite major taking into account that we were at that point few miles from the mountain. The snow cloud felt big. I took a few shots and luckily they turned out quite good. Shortly after a helicopter landed in base camp bringing rich and lazy tourist for lunch/dinner. With USD $3000 for one hour of flight time it is rather hefty price to pay. Millions of photos later, that people took posing in front of helicopter, it finally lifted and disappeared in the distance.

Later afternoon I returned to a big flat area behind memorials and set up for photo I had in mind for a while. It was to promote somaly.org foundation which I am supporting. Sun came down faster than I though and building the url from little stones was little more laborious than I initially thought. But I made it, although it is not a pretty picture it will serve the purpose. Later in the evening, around 10:30pm I ventured out again to take night shots. Moon was once again too bright, nearly could take hand held shot. I tried star trails but there was only few above Annapurna. So I turned back to face Machapuchare with much more stars in the sky however the overly bright moon would spoil the shot. I returned to my room by midnight since my fingers were frozen to the point I could not operate the camera any more.

After very short sleep, I was out of sleeping bag again at 4am. That’s a dedication 🙂 Set up for sunrise I was waiting for first rays to peek through the mountains. Whole sunrise theatre is quite short but it is spectacular. By the time it was nearly over other people in the camp managed to drag themselves out of the sleeping bags. At 8am the sun was already too high in the sky. It’s strength was amplified by snow reflecting the rays back. One could get snow blind without sunglasses. After quick breakfast I was ready to go down. We were about to cover a distance that took us 3 days on the way up. After about 8hrs of walking, climbing and descending we reached a village of Sinuwa, just across the valley from Chomrong. On the way it was slippery due to a layer of snow, the result of yesterday’s big avalanche. Today was the first day i was really tired. Distance we covered was big. I allowed myself to have a can of coke and also took a shower, first time in last 3 days.

Next day we stopped at Jhinudanda. We had some awesome relaxing time in hot springs, two small pools of hot water next to the river. As it was little crowded we left little earlier than we planned. That day it was New Year Eve. Surprisingly, everybody went to bed early. We wished Happy New Year to each other next morning as we were getting ready for another day of walking. After 8 or so hours we reached the village of Pothana, the last mountain village on the way. This is the place where I saw the most beautiful and colorful sunset on the trek so far. Last destination we were about to visit is  Serangko, a small village or rather group of hotels and guest houses on the hill just behind Pokhara. With excellent views of Himalayan range as well as whole city is popular destination for tourist who don’t have time or interest in trekking. It is also a place for ever popular paragliding. At the times there is no less than 20 para-gliders in the air at one time and all relatively close proximity to each other. Local people here are definitely different from mountain people. Place is not so clean as mountain villages as they are more oblivious to what condition their environment is. Views of the Himalayan peaks were negatively affected by dust andthick haze. Photographs came out with extremely compressed histogram and I will have to rely heavily on camera’s ability to capture as much information as possible given these conditions.

After descended to Pokhara  next morning, we officially finished the trek. I said goodbye to Dawa as he headed home to Kathmandu the same day. I shared room with Agasta since hotel was full. Next morning we boarded the bus to Kathmandu and of we went. It was supposed to take 7-8 hours. Approaching the 5hr mark I saw a table clearly saying that our destination is only 30km away, so I though we might do it below 6 horus. How wrong I was. There is a mountain range to cross before bus enters into Kathmandu valley. Road is extremely narrow, barely enough for two truck to pass next to each other without collision. And boy, there are hundreds of trucks stuck in the biggest mountain traffic jam I ever seen. In the next hour we barely covered 1km. At the times we came so close to the edge of the road that I really feared the worst. As we finally reached top of the hill with check point I though things will go faster. It took one more hour till we reached our destination not far from Thamel district. We opted to walk to the hotel and in less than 30 minutes we reached the Thorong Peak guest house. I finally got a hot shower and after evening at Agasta’s place over bowl for my favourite sherpa stew I finally set to rest. Next day I spent exploring Kathmandu’s sights. The end of the trip was here and it seemed to be so short. I wished I was back in the mountains but it was time to say goodbye to Agasta and Nepal. I really hope I’ll be back….sooner rather than later 🙂 Namaste.

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