Rob’s intro: I would hope that if someone sets out the trek the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal, which includes Thorung La Pass (one of the highest mountain passes in the world) and also traditionally includes a side trip to Tilicho Lake (one of the highest lakes in the world), it shouldn’t be your first rodeo. It isn’t ours, but I wouldn’t put us anywhere near the expert category either. We are at an altitude now where you feel the heaviness of your chest when you breathe and thickness of your leg muscles as you hike. The weight, small pun intended, of our next 5 days has begun to sink in. The chill of the thinning air wakes you and reminds you to take all precautions and warnings to heart. In 2014 the pass claimed the lives of 43 people. In high trekking season rescue helicopters run almost everyday. We both feel good so far and believe we have prepared our legs and lungs as best as we could over the previous 10 days. Because of this, our excitement is brimming to start each morning and make our way further. The Annapurna Trek has a different type of preparation than the PCT or other climbs or trails. Knowing you have to prepare and perform physically just to reach the point so you can prepare and perform mentally & physically is something neither of us have done before. We have reached that point in our trek where we have seen the tree line fall behind us. If all goes well, we will have the legs and the lungs for the 17,770ft climb over the pass and, most importantly, the mental confidence to know we will be successful.
Part of our preparation and an enjoyable part at that has been eating a lot of very good and healthy food. Buckwheat bread, lots of rice, lentil soups, potato curries and great pancakes with thick mountain bee honey. When we order our dinners, we also watch the Innkeeper / Cook walk out into their garden behind the Inn and pick the potatoes, cabbage and herbs we are about the enjoy. There is also tea. Lots of delicious teas from Black to Spiced with milk. Yum. I can’t say that we haven’t had any alcohol, but it’s been limited to a glass or two of the local rice based Raksi. It’s a little bit Sake and a little bit Moonshine. We have also noticed that above 12,500ft we drink about twice as much water as you would during a regular strenuous hike. We sleep early and hard after a good day’s hike too which makes you feel all that more refreshed in the morning.
As much as you think you are prepared for the altitude, a couple of simple 300 ft climbs from Shree Kharka to Tilicho Base Camp winded me pretty good. The trail between the the 2 places was technical and visually ominous because if you slid the wrong way in the skree slope there wasn’t really anything to slow you down until the river some 2000ft down.
Day 8 Stats:
Starting elevation: 11,665 @ Manang
Ending elevation: 13,287@ Shree Kharka
Net gain: 1,622
Total hiking ascent: 1,907
Total hiking descent: 285
Dal Bhat meals: 1 each And it was so good and the first we have had that included meat.
Cost for teahouse for 1 night (board, dinner and breakfast x 2): 1,630 Nrs ~$14.80 USD
Lacy: We woke up late and after another breakfast of fried samosas and Tibetan bread before departing Manang at 9:30. We only planned to go to the next village today, but 90 minutes later when we arrived in Khangsar we both still felt up for more so we had a hot tea and climbed another hour to the remote village of Shree Kharka. Over lunch of fried rice we debated going all the way to Tilicho Base Camp, an additional 2.5-3 hour hike. My head had a slight ache to it from the altitude gain, but continuing only meant another 300 ft gain so I wasn’t too worried about it. We had decided to go forward when the temperature suddenly dropped and a few sprinkles started. Just like that, we made an about face and had a key to a room. We spent a lovely afternoon playing cards, taking hot showers and enjoying the view from 13,000+ ft. Even after a short nap and continuously drinking liters of water, my head still ached a bit after dinner. I could also feel a shortness in breath when I practiced yoga in the afternoon. Just means the gain in altitude is effecting me already and I need to be diligent about hydration and paying attention to my body because we are only going higher. The lake is another 3,000 ft and Thorong La is 4,000 ft taller. We have altitude medicine just in case, but we are really cruising and taking our time so I am doubtful we will need any.
Day 9 Stats:
Starting elevation: 13,287@ Shree Kharka
Ending elevation: 13,565 @ Tilicho Base Camp
Net gain: 278
Total hiking ascent: 679
Total hiking descent: 401
Dal Bhat meals: 1 for Rob. I opted for fried pasta with vegetables and yak cheese. Nice change. Just to be clear, there are definitely other things on the menus (fried rice, pasta, momos, chappati pizza, spring rolls, soups etc), but we have grown to be fond of Dal Bhat. It’s usually a sure bet as to be the best dish on the menu. Plus, it really is the most bang for you buck because they always offer you seconds of everything so it’s like 2 meals in one for those times when you have real hiker hunger.
Cost for teahouse for 3 nights, days 9-11 (board and meals x 2): $5,975 Nrs ~$54 USD First time we had to pay for a room in addition to the food cost, but it was only $400 Nrs for all 3 days which is less than $4 USD. The sign in the lodge says that rooms are $20-$30 in high season. Yikes!
Lacy: It’s noon on Day 9 and I am laying in bed in my one pair of clothes that I don’t hike in and keep relatively clean. I was up at 5am and was finally rewarded with the most stunning view of the Himalayas across the entire valley. When I looked out the window from my bed in Shree Kharka I saw a huge snow covered mountain in front of me that I had never seen before because up until now it has been shrouded in clouds. I popped out of bed & bolted from the room and into the courtyard as fast as I could put my jacket and shoes on. Smiling ear to ear, I walked up and down the trail outside of the lodge snapping a million photos. This sight was everything we have been working for for the past week +. I was in love! By the time I finished yoga and sat down to breakfast with Daddie Gizmo at 7 the clouds had already settled low and covered 95% of the view. Thirty minutes later when we began our short hike to Tilicho Base Camp the snow covered peaks were completely covered. I am hoping for another spectacular view over the lake. We are going to work even harder for that view. Already, hiking towards Tilicho Base Camp in the morning, we could feel the altitude slowing us down as the trail took us to just below 14,000 ft. We weren’t ascending much at all, but needed to stop frequently to catch our breath because of the thin air. Taking a full deep breath while hiking up is becoming more difficult. Though the hike was short it was not without its breathtaking moments, and not just because of the beauty surrounding us. After huffing and puffing uphill we crossed a suspension bridge over the river where we again needed to hike up, but this time we were directly under a rock cliff. Within 2 seconds of stepping off of the bridge a piece of rock dropped off the cliff and pelted me in the chest. It took my breath away. I was in more shock than pain, but it certainly hurt and I marveled at the fact that it missed my head just a few inches away. Rob heard me gasp as the rock hit me and I said, “let’s get out of here.” When we were out of harms way I told him how scary that was.
Following this, we had to traverse a landslide area where the trail is covered in scree, broken rock or shale. To our right is a steep slope coming down our way covered in large and small rocks. One small mountain goat walking above us could cause an avalanche of debris coming our way. To our left, a steep slope down to the Marsyangdi River. We watched our footing carefully and made it through just fine. Coming around a bend 2 hours into the hike we see our lodging for the night in the distance and become pleasantly aware again that we are indeed in the middle of nowhere, high above the tree line. The lodge is all there is around within the 4 miles from Shree Kharka. It’s a cool sensation. The trail to the lake is 3,000 ft straight up, but thankfully we will have stripped down packs on. Most of our belongings will be left behind at the lodge until we come down from the lake and head back to Shree Kharka for the night. All we are taking is breakfast, water, camera and rain jackets. I’m beginning to feel the gravity of what we have set out to accomplish with each gain in altitude that we achieve. I can’t help but feel it effect my stride, head and breathing. But we will make it. I know we will!
1 Dal Bhat each
Thwarted by the rain. We woke up at 4:30 to see a gray sky out the window. Thirty minutes later it was still gray and this usually begins prime viewing time of the mountains for the day. We reset the alarm for 6 only to find that the clouds were still hanging low and it was raining. At that point we decided to go back to sleep, have a lazy day at the lodge and go up to the lake tomorrow with HOPEFULLY better weather. The views at the lake are supposed to be one of the pinnacle highlights of the hike so since we have the time we crossed our fingers and waited one more day…