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 Post subject: Annapurna base camp trek (Nepal) -- March 25 - April 2, 2017
 Post Posted: May 15th, 2017, 11:14 am 
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Joined: May 18th, 2009, 3:17 pm
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Location: Portland
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I spent 4 weeks in Nepal recently, and which gave me enough time to see the cultural sights and still go on a 9 day trek around Annapurna's south basecamp (ABC) at 4130m (13,500 ft).

After spending some time in Kathmandu and the valley (Bhaktapur was especially nice), I decided to save time by flying to Pokhara: depending on your budget, it's $6 for an endless, bumpy 8-9 hr bus ride, or $112 for a 20 minute flight! The air was especially dusty this year so I hadn't seen any mountains till I was on the plane.

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The trekking lodges are cash-only operations and there are no ATMs once you leave Pokhara, so you have to take a nice bankroll along for the whole trek. I estimated a budget of $20/day for 10 days, which I ended up being well below for the 9 days I was out. The pile of bills was equal to about $250, which was the budget plus extra for buses, taxis, emergencies, etc. The awkward thing about being a Western tourist in Nepal is how much more money you take to trek than most Nepalis actually have in their possession. It's an incredibly poor country.

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I rented a sleeping bag in Pokhara ($1.50/day with a $30 deposit), which I used about half the nights. I really didn't need it (lodges supply thick comforters with your bed), and it was kind of heavy, so I probably could have saved the weight. Like most gear in Nepal, it was a "North Face" knockoff, likely made in Nepal. I also left my trekking poles at home so I wouldn't have to travel with them, and ended up buying a pair of "Lekis" (Chinese knock offs) in Pokhara for $10, which was the cheapest I could find there. Prices are a little lower at the gear shops in Thamel in Kathmandu.

Permits for an Annapurna trek are $20 for the trekking permit and $20 for the Annapurna Conservation area (ACAP) permit. You can pick those up in town at the tourist office before you leave. Any hotel will store your extra clothing and gear while you trek - I left a small bag with spare non-hiking clothes, books, and even a very old and small film camera buried in it, and everything was fine when I got back 10 days later.

I started and ended at Naya Pul, though there are a variety of options for start and end points. If you want a guide or porter, there are tons of places in both Thamel and Pokhara that offer their services (as well as random people on the street, but that's not generally recommended); if you so desire, the bigger tourist services will even set up all your transportation to and from your trek, meals, accommodations en route, etc., though it's also possible to hire someone just for the trek itself. The more I learned about guides and porters for trekking, the more it became obvious that the political, economic, colonial, classist, and labor issues involved are very intricate. For a variety of personal and philosophical reasons, I chose to do my trek alone, unsupported, and I was very happy with that decision in the end. While I realize that my decision deprived at least one Nepali of a very good wage (relative to the norm in Nepal), a lot of the interplay between guides, porters, and clients that I saw on the trek made me really uncomfortable (for instance, guides and clients do not eat together, the guides and porters must wait till the client is done). Porters generally carry enormous loads (some of which are supplies for the lodges), and I saw plenty of porters humping huge bags (suspended from straps from their foreheads) while a flip-flopping client wandered behind them with nothing at all.

That said, I did meet some very awesome and funny guides, so while a competent backpacker should not need any kind of support while trekking, choosing the right guide might add company, regional knowledge, and hopefully some entertainment to your trek. </soapbox>

Day 1: Pokhara to Ghandruk

I took a bus from Pokhara to Naya Pul (1.5 hrs, very windy and bumpy). Rather than walk the dirt road, I stayed on the bus (you can also catch a jeep, possibly faster) as it continued up the very precipitous and windy road to Kimche. (Having visions of the bus tipping off the cliff, I was very relieved when we finally arrived...) This all cost less than $4, while a taxi to Naya Pul alone is $20.

It was around 1:30pm by the time I finally got off the bus (public transport is not fast in Nepal...), and I headed up the stone steps towards Ghandruk.

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Despite only having walked for an hour, I decided to stop in Ghandruk due to the lateness of the afternoon, and how bloody hot it was walking up those steps in the sun. Generally it wasn't hard to find a place to stay, though in a busier season (fall is peak), I've read it's recommended to get your room set by mid-afternoon lest every place be full. After dropping my stuff at the lodge in Ghandruk, I wandered through the back alleys of the village and up a hill to a temple.

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On the way back down I passed a woman making scarves on a loom. She said they took 3-5 days each.

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Many houses here (and most of the lodges over the whole trek) had vegetable gardens out back.

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Ghandruk: mountains would be visible in the background if it were clear.

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Day 2: Ghandruk to Chomrong

I left Ghandruk and crossed some undulating hills with bridge crossings, followed by a steep climb up a ridge to the town of Chomrong.

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Looking back down the Modi Khola (river).

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I arrived in Chomrong and got a room in a lodge at the top of the hill. But it was cloudy, no views.

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Porters hanging around. They were working for a large (and somewhat obnoxious) group of older French trekkers doing a shorter loop.

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But the next morning: a mountain! Annapurna South (7200m).

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Losing EG for a bridge crossing below Chomrong.

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At Lower Sinuwa, the next town on the route. The buildings across the valley are Chomrong! I stayed up on the top of the ridge. The terrain here was very steep in these river drainages, lots of up and down.

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Looking back down the Modi.

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At the next town (Upper Sinuwa), looking up the Modi in the direction I was headed. First view of Machapuchare! (6993m, sacred and illegal to climb.) From Chomrong onward, it was an out and back to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) at 4130m (13,500 ft).

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Arriving at the two lodges at Himalaya (2900m / 9500 ft) at the end of day 3.

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Day 3 was when I hit stride. While Kathmandu was disorienting due to the crowds and language and cultural differences, hiking is hiking. My legs didn't care that this trail was in Nepal; my feet knew what to do. This was a decent day - maybe 6-7 miles (I have no idea what the distances are between the stops on this trek, as distances aren't given on my map), and 200m of EG loss followed by 1000m of gain (-650 ft + 3300 ft). The section from Sinuwa to Himalaya was actually some of the nicest trail on the trek - undulating along the steep side of a hill, with a river below, and blooming rhododendrons and other nice trees - it actually reminded me a bit of the Gorge.

Day 4: Himalaya to ABC

Things started getting good after Himalaya.

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After the town of Deorali, the trail crossed the Modi to avoid avi danger on the western side. This is looking back down the Modi with Deorali perched above.

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The crossing was on a kinda rickety ad hoc metal bridge - a bit unnerving with the swift river, I went across it pretty fast...

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After this the snow started. People were wearing Microspikes, which made no sense since the snow was really slushy.

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Looking back the way I'd come.

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Onward.

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We recrossed the Modi on another rickety bridge.

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Looking back again.

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The trail headed up the slope on the left (west) bank of the river.

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Clouds were racing up the Modi after us.

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Machapuchare Base Camp (3700m / 12,000 ft) is a misnomer since climbing the peak is illegal (it's never been climbed). There's a couple of lodges and it's only there for trekkers.

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As noted on this sign, prices at the lodges are fixed by ACAP: a single person in a 2 bed room (even if the other bed was empty) cost Rs 200 (~ $2) per night. Food prices were higher (it's how they make their money) and increased incrementally the higher you went, which makes sense since someone has to carry all the supplies up there on their back! I especially liked this sign's admonishment not to try to "bargain in vain."

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Main cluster of MBC lodges up ahead.

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Machapuchare towering above.

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I stopped for lunch as the clouds rolled in and obscured the views.

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The final bit of the route to ABC.

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However, by the time I finished lunch, it was a total whiteout. I asked at the lodge if the route was safe and obvious and was told it was, so I just followed the clear track through the snow all the way there. There's no crevasse danger or anything like that, and the way uphill leads to ABC. But it was still really weird walking blind.

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Hey, I've arrived, but where are the buildings??

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Literally another hundred yards uphill, but I absolutely could not see them until I walked right into them! I decided to stay at the Annapurna Guest House because it had a nice big looking dining room. They put me in a strange room behind the kitchen, which I ended up sharing with an older Korean man (Lee) whom I'd met earlier at Himalaya. If you're solo, they will make you share when the rooms start to fill up.

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Annapurna South looms overhead as the clouds clear.

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Hey look, down in the left is that sign where I couldn't see the buildings!

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The big South Face of Annapurna in the swirling afternoon clouds.

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Machapuchare is pretty awesome. From this side it's a crazy triangular spike, but from the south, it looks like it has two flaring summits, which led to its nickname as the "Fishtail" peak.

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If I'd had crampons and boots and an axe (I was just wearing meshy trail runners!), I would've gone exploring up this hill.

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The porters and guides seemed to be staying in this cabin out behind the lodges. Annapurna is behind them.

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This was a big day - about 1200m (almost 4000 ft) of EG, and almost all of it above 10,000 ft, topping out at 13,500 ft at ABC, but I'd kept an even measured pace and watched my breathing and it wasn't bad. I had a slight headache that night at ABC, so I drank a lot of water and took an ibuprofen, and when I woke up in the morning the headache was gone and I felt fine. I've spent time at elevation before (5 straight days above 10,000 ft on the JMT, and a number of times going from sea level to the summit of Hood or Adams), so I made a calculated decision to make the big climb to ABC rather than stopping at MBC (in which case it would be a very short trip up the next morning, but you'd have to leave super early if you wanted to see the sunrise). It's not recommended to gain more than a couple of thousand feet of EG per day at those elevations, and to wit, a Chinese woman at ABC seemed to be suffering from altitude sickness (she recovered). Definitely wise to keep tabs on yourself and play it safe.


Day 5: ABC to Bamboo

Lee and I woke up at 4am to try to check out the stars, but we were a little too late for that. (A Chinese guy I'd been running into for the past couple of days showed me some really *ahem* stellar pics of the Milky Way he shot around 2am.) We hung out waiting for the sunrise around 6:15 and just watched the mountains grow brighter. It was chilly, but probably not much below freezing; I was wearing long underwear and my normal fleece hoody with a puffy and it was tolerable just standing around for two hours.

Behind ABC there's a big dropoff into a huge valley carved by glaciers.

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Here we go, the point of these shenanigans: sunrise on the incredible South Face of Annapurna I (26,545 ft), the first 8000m peak ever climbed (in 1950 from the north; we are at the site of the basecamp for the 1970 British expedition led by Chris Bonnington).

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Annapurna South on the left. It's 800m shorter, but closer.

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ABC, with Machapuchare overhead.

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They even have "stray" dogs at ABC!

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The glacial valley below us was epic. I have no idea when there were last glaciers down there, but it probably dropped 300-500 ft.

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I eventually tore myself away from the view and had breakfast, then packed up and headed down. The snow was super slushy at this point, so I stopped at MBC to try to dry out my shoes and socks in the sun.

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Due to slush, descending from MBC down to the Modi was best accomplished via boot skiing; however, at one point I slipped and one of my poles stuck fast in the snow and the lower section bent perpendicular. When I bent it back, it broke! Clearly you get what you pay for with the cheap knockoffs. (I've never broken or even bent the real poles I have at home, even the 9 year old ones.)

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This was a setback for my hiking rhythm, as one pole is kind of awkward. I managed to extract the broken end at Deorali, but there would be no way to tighten the piece with the tip back into the rest of the pole. I continued down, keeping my eyes peeled for good sticks.

These watercoursed slabs would be a great place to bathe on a sunny day, but clouds were rolling in.

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I found a nice piece of bamboo almost immediately, but it was too big to shove into the pole as a replacement lower section. However, the lodge owner at Himalaya used a large (and dull) knife to whittle the bamboo into a great replacement pole. I popped the handle off the broken one and voila! I think the new bamboo pole, though lacking the traction of a metal tip, was probably stronger than the surviving knock off Leki... I used it for the remainder of the trek, and at the end, sold the pair (1 fake Leki + one piece of bamboo) to another trekker in Pokara for $3.

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After Himalaya, the mist turned to drizzle turned to rain. I stopped in Bamboo in early afternoon for lunch (I'd been motoring and had only eaten one of the bars I'd brought from home), then decided to cut my losses and stop there to try to let my shoes and socks dry out, as I'd only get soaked if I continued (I did have a poncho/rain cover, but my shoes weren't waterproof). I ended up sharing a room with a Chinese guy who was part of a group of three - they hadn't known each other in advance but had met in the Shanghai airport and decided to trek together!

About 1800m (5900 ft) of descent from ABC to Bamboo. I felt like I could have kept going, though the stone steps were wearing on my knees.

Day 6: Bamboo to Tadapani

Going up the stairs leaving Bamboo in the morning.

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One of the last views of Machapuchare.

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I blasted down to Sinuwa, crossed the river, and sweated a bucket as I climbed back up to Chomrong, where I had lunch and said goodbye to the my three Chinese friends. Then I turned east to make a loop out of it. After crossing Chomrong Pass, the trail descended past some small villages to a river crossing: this would be another day with lots of up and down!

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After this was a long climb up to Tadapani, way up on the ridge above me. It was humid, especially so higher up when the trail entered the forest and became jungly. But there were some nice blooming rhododendrons.

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I reached Tadapani later in the afternoon after a grueling climb. It was totally socked in with mist, and I was completely drenched in sweat. I paid for my first hot shower at the lodge (I'd actually taken a couple of free cold ones prior; the showers are in the bathroom, but hot water has to be turned on and costs extra) and hung out until bedtime. I think Tadapani is supposed to have nice views on a clear day, but I couldn't see anything. The air was so moist that my walls and blankets were damp and I basically hated the place and left as soon as I could the next morning.

This was the most brutal and draining day, some combination of the exertion over the past few days catching up to me (I had minimal snacks with me, though you can stop at a lodge for food or tea every couple of hours), the serious undulations with all the river crossings, and the crushing humidity. EG for the day was about 900m of descent and 1100m of ascent (-3000 + 3600 ft).

Day 7: Tadapani to Dobato

I apparently took no pictures on this day, but it, and the two remaining days after, were "half" days, where I reached my destination around lunchtime. From Tadapani, I spent around 4 hours climbing 2600 ft through a sweaty forest to a small settlement high on a hill - this would allow me to wake early and see the sunrise on a bunch of mountains. Dobato has 3 lodges and nothing else, and clouds rolled in and obscured any views by the time I arrived, so I just hung out in the dining room all afternoon reading and sitting around. Around dinnertime some other people showed up, and it ended up being an entertaining evening playing Uno with some others and hearing a funny guide tell stories.

Day 8: Dobato to Ghorepani

Everyone else in the lodge was there for the sunrise, so we all got up in the dark and climbed 200m up to Muldai Point (12,000 ft).

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L-R: Annapurna (smaller because it's farther away), Annapurna South, Machapuchare.

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The Point had a little rickety tower. There were only about 10 of us up there, and the view was fantastic.

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Dhaulagiri (26,575 ft)

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I went back down to the lodge for breakfast, then packed up and hiked back up the hill to Muldai and over the other side to continue down. Like clockwork, the mists rolled in as I went down the ridge.

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A steep descent on a less used trail later, I arrived in Deurali (not to be confused with Deorali!) and joined the main easy trek route over to the large town of Ghorepani.

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I got in around 11:45 and grabbed a room in a big lodge (really, this one could be called a "hotel") up at the top of the hill. After lunch I hung out and was reading when a crazy ice and lightning storm started. Afternoon thunderstorms had been a common thing in Kathmandu and the surrounding valley, but so far I'd avoided them on the trek; however, this one battered the hill I'd come in on with lightning bolts and covered the whole town in a layer of enormous hail the size of grapes. Everyone inside went to the windows to gawk. How glad I was not to be out trekking then!

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I spent the rest of the day chatting with other trekkers and playing some more Uno. I tried raksi (a clear rice wine) and was not a fan. Then early to bed and early to rise for another sunrise. About 500m of gain and 1000m of loss on this day (+1600 ft -3300 ft).

Day 9: Ghorepani to Pokhara

Ghorepani is the first stop on the "Ghandruk Trek," and it's totally crammed with people who are all there to get up at the crack of dawn and march up to Poon Hill (10,500 ft), which is about 400m above Ghorepani and costs Rs 50. I heard people outside my window at 4:45am and the stairs going up the hill were totally clogged with unacclimatized people plodding upward. It was a total zoo, but it was another great sunrise view (perhaps not as great a spot as Muldai, but an amazingly clear morning), so it was worth it overall.

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Annapurna South, with a wisp of light on Annapurna I to the left.

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Dhaulagiri again

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Muldai had about 10 people. Poon Hill had hundreds. (I heard it can be thousands [?!] in peak season.)

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It had been socked in the previous day, but when I got back down to my hotel for breakfast, I discovered its patio had basically the same view!

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This called for two breakfasts!

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After packing up, I checked out at the ACAP station, and headed down. The trail passed along a nice river and through some small villages.

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There were lots of people everywhere - possibly more on this leg than the rest combined, it seemed like? The last bit of the trail dropped down 3000 stairs through the village of Ulleri towards Hille, which was a knee killer. (Most stairs on this trek were either too steep or too uneven to make for easy walking going down.) The road is slowly creeping up the hill, and while the staircase trail continues down, I exited around Besi at the top of the road, and after some waiting and bartering managed to get a terrifying Rs 600 jeep ride down along the edge of a cliff to Naya Pul, followed by a bargain taxi back to Pokhara, at which point I retrieved my spare things and then splurged on a $20/night luxury hotel (this is double the price of the average generic hotel in Nepal) with a king bed, working outlets, modern bathroom fixtures, and - most importantly - AC. :D

The end! I spent a couple of days unwinding in Pokhara, eating at the many inexpensive restaurants, visiting the International Mountain Museum, walking for a few hours up to the World Peace Pagoda (I checked a bucket list item by finding a leech attached to my foot up at the Pagoda - I'd met some other Americans fresh off the Annapurna Circuit and we'd walked together and all got a leech on one foot). Then a laborious bus ride back to Kathmandu, and finally, the long (long [long]) trip back home.

It wasn't very hard to DIY a trek in this area. Unlike thru-hiking here, you don't have to plan food or logistics because there are lodges every few hours where you can get a bed and a hot meal. This enables you to keep your pack pretty light, depending on the season and how high you anticipate going. Room rates were standardized to $2-3/night, and I ate dal bhat almost every night (it comes with free refills!), which ran $5-7; a set Western-style breakfast was about the same. Being unsupported, I had to carry all my own gear (including normal 10-essentials type stuff - I'm not sure how speedy rescues would be out there) and do all my own routefinding and logistics, but the main trails have colored markings on rocks and trees, and basically everyone in Nepal speaks at least some English (tourism being the main economic driver) so it wasn't hard to get a room or order food. (Pro tip: place your dinner order when you arrive in the afternoon, to be ready at dinnertime, then place your breakfast order after dinner, to be ready whenever you'll get up in the morning. This saves some of the waiting for your meals. It's also best to eat dal bhat - a filling combination of rice, lentil soup, vegetables, and curry - because they make a lot of it, which is efficient for their fuel. You can order silly western things like pizza, but you're in Nepal - eat local!) Transportation is generally easy to arrange (since everyone speaks at least some English) and ranges from cheap (buses) to expensive (taxis). Public transportation options, like other places in the developing world, are slow and very very crowded - expect to have your pack on your lap if you're lucky enough to be sitting (tip: get on the bus early to ensure having a seat!). I picked up a map for $5 in Thamel and you can basically buy any gear you might need once you're there, so no reason to bring non-essentials you don't want to carry for the tourist part of your vacation, but be warned that the gear quality isn't super high, so you probably want shoes, pack, etc from home. (If fanciness and fit aren't important, you can pick up a down jacket for $20-30...)

Trekking was great fun: it's like backpacking lite, you get to meet people from all over the world, the mountains are amazing, and since you're not limited by how much food you can carry, you can keep walking as long as you have time and cash in your pocket. If it weren't for the 23 hour flight (versus a 3-5 hour flight for some people I met from Asia), it would be easy to do all the time! :D

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 Post subject: Re: Annapurna base camp trek (Nepal) -- March 25 - April 2,
 Post Posted: May 15th, 2017, 11:19 am 
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Wow! That must have been an amazing trip, nice pictures


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 Post subject: Re: Annapurna base camp trek (Nepal) -- March 25 - April 2,
 Post Posted: May 15th, 2017, 1:03 pm 
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Hey Nat, a really nice write up for what was obviously a memorable journey. Great narration, you've got some skills - felt like I was there - the photos are really nice. Thx.

--Paul

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 Post subject: Re: Annapurna base camp trek (Nepal) -- March 25 - April 2,
 Post Posted: May 15th, 2017, 1:40 pm 
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That's just great, brings back so many memories.

Btw, it is possible to get a local guide who is more of a partner. I did it once or twice, with a guide arranged either in KTM or at road's end. Shared a tent and everything. But don't underestimate cultural differences and stresses in those cases. It's not just you who has to be flexible. If you do that, you will be sharing with somebody who has no idea what to expect from you and he isn't the one requesting that relationship. Even things we consider to be the most basic courtesies are foreign to them, and vice versa. It's a challenging thing and I wouldn't recommend it to most people. But that was a remote route (the Rolwaling) where nobody spoke a word of English, so a guide was not optional, and I was on too tight of a budget for a normal guide. For Annapurna, doing it solo is fine.

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 Post subject: Re: Annapurna base camp trek (Nepal) -- March 25 - April 2,
 Post Posted: May 15th, 2017, 6:14 pm 
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An amazing trip and very well told. I'm glad you got to see a glorious bunch of mountains!

These days, trekking outfits pretty much mandate a "professional" distance between porters/guides and clients, mainly to prevent awkward relationships that can crop up. A guide is always a plus in terms of the sheer amount of information you can get, but on a loop like that, you're meeting lots of people anyway.


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 Post subject: Re: Annapurna base camp trek (Nepal) -- March 25 - April 2,
 Post Posted: May 16th, 2017, 7:17 am 
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What an amazing adventure! I loved this report. :)


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 Post subject: Re: Annapurna base camp trek (Nepal) -- March 25 - April 2,
 Post Posted: May 16th, 2017, 8:43 am 
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Yes great write up! I enjoyed hearing it in person, but w/ photos and such it really took me there.

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About 1800m (5900 ft) of descent from ABC to Bamboo.


Holy hell! Imagine living over there...how do they all not need knee replacements at 30?

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 Post subject: Re: Annapurna base camp trek (Nepal) -- March 25 - April 2,
 Post Posted: May 16th, 2017, 10:20 am 
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miah66 wrote:
Holy hell! Imagine living over there...how do they all not need knee replacements at 30?


The locals run downhill with big packs bouncing up and down, so that they have the time for a cigarette break. Of course most of them throw the cigarette butts on the ground. This was one thing with my guide / partner. Because I was paying him well, he was buying and smoking - and tossing - a lot more than he could normally afford. But this was 20 years ago . . . of course they all understand about cancer and litter now. :o Guiding agencies usually laid down the rule that they must collect their litter, which makes no sense to them. As an individual employer I was not able to enforce this.

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 Post subject: Re: Annapurna base camp trek (Nepal) -- March 25 - April 2,
 Post Posted: May 16th, 2017, 12:30 pm 
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Nat - I am so glad you got to do this! Great pictures and narrative.

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 Post subject: Re: Annapurna base camp trek (Nepal) -- March 25 - April 2,
 Post Posted: May 16th, 2017, 12:58 pm 
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Great write up Nat, Hope to get there one of these days before my old legs give out.

About 10 years ago we had a Nepali intern working here at our company that did a lot of hiking with us. She was about 4'10" carried a giant pack everywhere she went and was never out of breath :) Quite infuriating when you are huffing and puffing your way up Mt St Helens and she was skipping along besides us talking and singing songs the whole way up :)

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