Take it from us wanderers; Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit trek is not a simple walk in the park (pun intended). When we commenced the trek, we thought we were prepared to deal with the super cold nights. We weren’t. In fact, we were so cold at one point we could barely sleep. So while it’s super tempting just to turn up, hire your sleeping bag and take off, there are a few more incredibly useful things you need to consider before commencing Nepal’s best trek.
Lucky for you guys, we struggled through cold nights at altitude so we would provide you with inside knowledge before tackling the long, epic and beautiful Annapurna Circuit trek.
You need to be fit, but not super fit
While you don’t need to be super fit to complete the Annapurna circuit, it’s definitely worthwhile putting in some hard yards at the gym, in the mountains or around the block before you leave.
For the most part the days are manageable; 5-6hrs and 10-15kms, with plenty of rest, long lunch breaks and a few rest days in between. BUT. Some days on your trek will be 16 hours at high altitude starting at 4am. Other days can be over 20kms through the Nepali flats or in the snow. And then there’s the final day from Muktinath to Jomsom (you can discover all about that yourself!).
Our advice is to build your general cardio (the fun stuff!) for at least a month prior to leaving as well as a few consecutive days of long distance walking. If you want to, try altitude training before you leave. We didn’t do this, but we’ve heard good reports. You’ll be grateful you made the effort when the time comes to lace up those boots up again for the 6th day in a row.
It pays to prepare so if you’re committed to completing the Annapurna circuit trek successfully, to training before you leave.
It’s long, hard and tough
It’s always further than it looks. It’s always taller than it looks. And it’s always harder than it looks.
That’s a quote about the ‘three rules of mountaineering’. We’re not really sure who came up with it, but they’re pretty spot on except for one detail: It’s also always completely worth it.
We’re going to get all tough love on you here: the Annapurna trek is long, tiring and physically and mentally tough. Depending on which route you take you’re going to be hiking for 13+ days – probably longer than your first high school romance.
Some days will be really physically tough. You’ll be living out of a backpack with a very limited supply of clothing, sleeping on some rock hard beds, eating only carbs (we didn’t say it was all bad), drinking chlorinated or steri-penned water all while having no internet access to check Facebook
Sound daunting? Well yeah, maybe it is. But trust us, when you’re standing in awe of the peaks around you, bonding with your group over a cup of hot chocolate, or celebrating crossing the Thorong La Pass these challenges become so insignificant you’ll wonder why they got you down in the first place.
The scenery is incredible
You know that feeling you get when you spot a hottie across the dancefloor for the first time? The hairs stand up on the back of your neck, your heart pounds like a kick drum, and you have this existential crisis about being so freaking small in this universe and how could all this amazingness actually even exist. Well, this happens Every. Single. Day. in the Annapurna region.
With every step the scenery in front of you changes and the mountains reveal something new; rolling clouds, the breathtaking terrain, the towering mountains or the smiling locals.
It’s literally the definition of awe-inspiring. Them feels are good for the soul and you’ll leave feeling all giddy about the world.
The accommodation is decent
If you’re expecting to stay at the Shangri-La, you’ll be disappointed. If you apply a little common sense and realise the Annapurna circuit is pretty remote, you’ll be satisfied with the basic accommodation options available.
Guesthouses and teahouses are dotted along the whole trek, starting from Besisahar all the way to Jomson. They’re pretty little things made from rock and wood and provide a welcome relief at the end of a long days trekking.
Rooms at each teahouse are generally twin share, with enough space to spread out. As the altitude increases, the accommodation becomes more basic, however, the higher you go the happier you’ll be with any form of bedding! Each teahouse has a common area which is usually stoked with a fire in the evening. This is where you’ll spend most of your time, eating and meeting fellow travellers.
Most teahouses make their money from food, so expect to pay slightly more than you would in Kathmandu. We do recommend buying food and drinks at teahouses. Firstly, it will lighten your load, and secondly it provides income to what are sometimes fairly poor communities.
Most teahouses will have basic amenities, such as showers and toilets. Up until Manang, you’ll be able to have hot, solar powered showers, although be prepared to fight for first position! You do have to pay for warm showers, but it’s definitely worth it.
You are also able to charge your electronic devices, and this comes at a cost too.
Bring only what you need
There are legends in Nepal; super strong guys who glide up and down mountains carrying all your stuff on their shoulders and neck. They’re called Porters, and they do this so you can concentrate on accomplishing your goal without extra baggage.
While their feats are super-human, they are in-fact quite human, with really human muscles and backs that are also prone to injury.
Help them out here by bringing only what you really need (10kgs or so), so ditch the hair straightener, the three pairs of jeans and the full make up bag as you won’t need it.
Bare essentials include:
- A pair of good quality waterproof hiking boots and a spare pair of inside shoes
- 6 pairs of underwear and four pairs of socks (you can wash them as you go!).
- Two pairs of hiking pants
- One pair of shorts
- Two jumpers (fleece or woollen)
- Two thermal tops and bottoms
- One goose-down jacket (you really need this).
- One Gore Tex jacket
- One pair of waterproof pants
- 1 beanie and 1 buff
- 1 pair of thick gloves
- Personal hygiene essentials
- Medical essentials
Your porters (and their spines) will thank you later.
Prepare for 4 seasons in one trek
Trekking through your tropical first day you’ll probably be asking yourself what the heck you brought all these warm clothes for. You’ll realise why when you get to 3,000m.
The Annapurna trek covers everything from tropical to alpine climatic zones. Some days you’ll be hiking in shorts and t-shirt consuming your fourth litre of water on yet another water break. Other days you’ll be wearing all of your clothes as the brutally cold -15c wind freezes your water.
The range of climatic zones you pass through is awesome, and sure makes for some epic views. Just be prepared everyday and ask your guide what temperatures to expect and which essentials to throw in your daypack and you’ll be ready to face it all.
Food is damn good
As your mind wanders while trudging through the snow on your way to Thorong La pass, you’ll dream of your favourite meal; a chicken parma, killer veggie curry, or Fro-Yo with all the toppings you like.
You don’t need to fear for your taste buds; the food in the Annapurna region is actually really freaking good, and pretty varied. Expect a lot of carbs and seasonal veggies, soups, momos and the most famous mountain meal of all, Dal Bhat.
Dal Bhat is a traditional Nepali meal consisting of rice, a lentil based soup and other condiments, and it’s generally all you can eat so you’ll never go hungry. As they say on the mountain: ‘Dal Bhat Power!’
You’ll be surprised by the amount of bakeries, stocking everything from strudel to doughnuts. We recommend stopping at each of these as they’re amazing!
Learn more about the delicious food you can eat with this Nepal food guide.
It’s pretty cheap, but be prepared
While the hike may break your leg muscles, it certainly won’t break your bank balance.
Budget for about $20 USD per person a day and you’ll be able to grab all the goodies including your meals, drinks and some snacks. Do make sure you also have some money set aside for tips to thank your guides and porters for their awesome service.
One thing you do need to note is that you won’t have an ATM until you finish in Jomson. So stock up on Nepali rupee before you start the hike. To keep that amount of money safe, stash it in your daypack.
Altitude sickness is real
Run the London Marathon? Completed the Hawaiian Ironman? Smash out spin classes four times a week? We commend you for being so awesome in your active wear, but it won’t help you with altitude sickness.
Altitude sickness can affect anyone, including the fittest athletes alive (and Sir Edmund Hillary – the first summiteer of Everest!) so make sure you take all the necessary precautions after 3000m. That includes taking Diamox (if you wish), staying hydrated, fuelling up and getting adequate rest. If you feel symptoms, let your guide know and take action.
This is serious shit; Miranda contracted high altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPE) while hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in Africa, and it was a horrific, long term recovery. We recommend reading up on altitude sickness (http://www.traveldoctor.co.uk/altitude.htm) before you leave.
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