Hiking the Annapurna Circuit is an extraordinary experience. The people you meet along the trail are down to earth and interesting, the views are majestic and staggering around every bend, and you cannot come out of a 230 km hike without learning something new about yourself. However, there are always a few things you wish you knew before hand. That is why, as someone that has been there and done it, I am going to pass on a few words of advice. Pack your backpacks & prepare your checklists. Also, please take into consideration these nine tips. My goal is for you to enjoy every minute, even the painful ones, with as light a pack as possible. So, get ready, cause here we go!
1. Know How to Say “Hello” and “Thank You”
Nepalese overall tend to be sweet people that embrace foreigners and have a warm cultural mentality. Knowing you simple “hello” and “thank you” will go a long way in showing you appreciation. If you master that and are feeling slightly more ambitious then move on to longer sentences. Believe me, people will be excited that you going the extra mile and will return the favor.
- Thank you. Dhanyavaad.
- How are you? Tapaain laaee kasto chha?
- Do you have a room? Kothaa paainchha?
- Tea. Chiya.
2.Get Your Permits in Kathmandu
To trek Annapurna Circuit you will need both an ACAP (park entrance fee) and TIMS Permit (money towards checkpoints and tail maintenance). As long as you are not taking a guide or Sherpa, you can obtain permits in Kathmandu or Pokhara, which will save you time when you get to the trail head. Otherwise, obtain them in Besisahar before starting out along the trail.
Nepal Tourist Board, Bhrikuti Mandap Park, Exhibition Rd, Kathmandu 44600 Hours:
Summer: 10 AM to 5 PM Sun. – Thurs. (except public holidays)
Winter: 10 AM to 4 PM Sun. – Thursday (except public holidays)
3. Leave Your Tent at Home, But Bring The Sleeping Bag
I carted around my person tent for the entire circuit and never opened it once. Our plan was to stay in the tea houses, but I kept hearing reports that during the season it was hard to get a room. It might be hard to get a nice room, but it is always possible to get a room. I have only seen people camping in the living/dinning room once, and even then they still had a roof over their head. Leave the extra weight at home.
Now, I did know people that did not bring a sleeping bag and used only the blankets provided. I would not recommend this. Carry a nice, 0 to 15 degree bag, because there are most definitely going to be a lot of cold nights and getting a good sleep is a necessity for your hiking safety the following day. Additionally, a sleeping bag is a useful tool in emergencies.
4. Sherpa’s Schlep
When I hiked the trail a guide was not required. After the 2014 Avalanche there are reports that this is changing. Either way, if you hire a guide be honest about your skill level and goals. Good guides will have strong recommendations for safely completing tasks, while lesser guides will just do whatever you want and have little concern for weather and safety. Therefore, try to find an experienced guide who’s advice your would trust and take consideration.
If you decide to hire a Sherpa to carry your gear remember that they have the same spinal column you do. During your journey you will be amazed by the baskets Nepalese carry up and down the mountain, but remember that that is mostly a tourist infrastructure and they are getting rid of our waste. Therefore, reuse water bottles by purifying water or buying boiled water. Additionally, just cause your not carrying your own pack doesn’t mean you should pack five pairs of pants instead of your usual two.
5. Acclimate In Manang
If you ever meet someone that has completed the Annapurna Circuit, chances are they have seen Seven Years in Tibet. It does not matter which year they completed the circuit, since it is the only movie the Manang Theater has.
The town is run down and definitely does not maintain the charm nearly every other place in Nepal harbors. However, situated at the perfect acclimatization elevation of 3,540 m (11,614 ft) nearly everyone will get stuck there for a few nights. Therefore, yes, spend the 200 rupees and head to the nightly movie. The highlight will be when they pause to hand out bags of popcorn and chia tea. Also take advantage of Manangs many bakeries. This is most definitely the highlight of the city. With all those miles under your shoes feel free to add on an extra bear claw or cinnamon roll. When you head out for Lake Tilichou you’ll need the extra calories. Also, pick up a loaf of bread and yak cheese as a snack for the trail.
As for nature, Manang has a few trails that are commonly used for acclimating purposes. Hike up and then back down, building up your limit. For a beautiful, short, and easier hike check out Gangapurna Lake. In the early seasons it will still commonly still be partially frozen.
6. A necessary side trip to Tilicho Lake
Tilicho Lake is known for being world’s highest lake and its staggering views. Before leaving from Manang check that all bridges are up and the trail is clear to Tilicho Base Camp (around a 5 hour trek); this should be common knowledge with the locals. The route to get there is very sketchy in some parts, but if the weather is clear it is a must go! The glacier runs directly into the lake making morning’s first light a world of turquoise. Sadly, if there has been a recent snowstorm do not take your chances and stay clear of this 1-2 day side trip. The path is riddled with possible Avalanche spots, along with landslides in the dry season. I must admit that sitting by the lake was the time I heard an avalanche in my life.
There is lodging available at Tilicho Base Camp for the night. Once you make it up the grueling 3-hour assent to 4,990 m (1,637 ft) you will see the pristine lake protected by a backdrop of mountains. There is also a small hut where you can sometimes get water or tea. I would recommend bringing your own small burner and not counting on their supplies, since they commonly run out. However, use the hut as a spot to warm up. Plan on spending an hour (at least) taking in the view before heading back down.
7. Revel in Accomplishing the Thorong La Pass
The pass is 5,416 meters (17,769 ft) in elevation and is no easy feat. Start out at first light and do your best to cross before the afternoon. Once at the top though, take the time to be excited that you accomplished it. There will be a local guy selling tea for what seems like an unreasonable price that resembles a Starbucks latte back home. Suck up the cost, buy a cup, and take in the moment. Be sure to get plenty of pictures in front of the sign draped in prayer flags. Make sure you have a good pair of hiking socks to keep your warm as this is the highest elevation you will get to during your trek along the Annapurna Circuit.
As early afternoon comes start heading down the mountain as it is commonly paired with a turn in the weather. Depending on the season and day, the pass can be sunny with little to no snow on the ground or completely covered with wild winds ranging in the midst of a snowstorm.
8. Short on Time – Just Get to Jomsom
From Muktinath to Jomsom you can either take a very expensive jeep ride that will be extremely crowded, and only take 1 hour and 30 minutes. Or you can opt to walk the trail for an approximate 5 hours and 30 minutes. The view is not gorgeous, thanks to the dirt road and constant jeep traffic.
If you need to cut the trail down into a smaller length, there is a small airport in Jomsom (JMO) that has hopper flights to Katmandu. This is the easiest way to cut trail length.
9. Reward Yourself in Pokhara
After finally accomplishing the trail you will want a few days to just relax, sleep, let your feet rest, and do nothing. Pokhara is a city located next to Phewa Lake that offers gorgeous views, boat rides, and shopping. Stop by Sunshine café for a huge, warm breakfast and fresh coffee, and head out to Everest Steakhouse in the morning to catch up on your protein intake. While it is a tourist city, it is budget style luxury that will feel exquisite after all your sweat and tears along the circuit.