In our research prior to the trek, we found it hard to put all the information out there together. So here’s our two cents worth to contribute to the discussion. Keep in mind that we encountered snow and we were attempting to go as light as possible. So we ditched the sleeping bags for instance, relying on the tea-houses and people along the way. We’ve done a fair chunk of bush-walking (or tramping if you’re Kiwi) in our time so we didn’t feel like novices. For instance, we’ve completed the Tongariro Circuit, the South West Track in Tasmania plus quite a few other ones nearby Brisbane. I for one however, wasn’t prepared for the snow on the Annapurna…
What would we do differently next time?
At a minimum, we reckon you’d need 2000NRs (April 2015 prices) per person per day. You might get away with 3000NRs for a couple. Most of this cost is made up of the food that you eat along the way and cups of tea that you consume. So you might get hungry if you’ve gone cheap. Meals get more expensive the further that you go up towards Thorong La. For instance, dhal baat was 650NRs at one of the tea-houses we stayed at in Yak Khurka. Mostly though, we found that we could eat a decent meal for under 500NRs each. It’s funny though, some things were relatively cheaper at different points and sometimes they get more expensive. What we didn’t factor in were the costs of extra things such toilet paper, snacks, and cups of tea. The first ATM that we came to was at Jomsom, and we were okay but if we had gotten snowed in, we would have been in strife. The bigger hotels will exchange USD or EUR for NRs. You do meet friends though who can help you out.
If you were wanting more than just a meal and a room, the price would increase quite dramatically. You might want to budget for 5000NRs per person per day or up to 8000NRs per couple. For instance, if you’re chasing a beer, it might cost upwards of 450NRs. Bakery items or other snacks quickly add up also and so it’s too easy to rack up the bill especially if you’re sitting around playing cards. A suggestion? Bring your own snacks – prices are often two or three times what you would pay back in Pokhara or Kathmandu at the roadside stalls or shops such as Salesways or Big Mart. There’s also a movie theatre (seriously!) in Manang that’s worth a visit that you’ll need some extra cash for: they even have popcorn and tea with the electric heater on yak fur seats inside the theatre!
The rooms are very simple and quite cheap. All of the hotels go into an agreement and form a cartel so that they charge the same price. If you barter though, they’ll often say “don’t tell other guests but yes, we can do a cheaper room price.” We ended up not paying for accommodation throughout the trek by agreeing to eat only at that particular tea-house. The rooms come with blankets and you can usually ask for extra (if it’s the low or shoulder season, I wouldn’t count on this strategy in the high season). We relied on this and they were warm enough usually to see us through the night, sometimes we had to add extra layers of clothing. It’s rare that the blankets get washed, as it’s difficult for them to dry if it’s cloudy and cold. Mishal does get cold, so she brought along a hot water bottle and asked for a top up each night. I just slept in thermals and found myself warm enough, despite the very cold temperatures (-11C with snow at Thorong Phedi). A suggestion for next time? Bring a sleeping bag liner so that you’re sleeping in your own blanket each night.
What would we do differently? What are some things we didn’t consider that we wish we knew about?
- Shoes – I had waterproof hiking shoes, which I bought back in Australia which were great for walking through mud and the snow. The problem was that once the snow or water gets inside your waterproof shoe, it can’t get out easily – makes your toes get pretty cold pretty quickly! So I would have appreciated gators (which you can hire from Pokhara or Thamel etc). Some of the guides brought along crampons for their clients to deal with the slippery ice. We didn’t use them as we had no experience with them but they would have been pretty helpful in our circumstance, descending through the icy slippery snow. It was pretty miserable trying to make it through the snow slipping and sliding everywhere. Our Canadian friends said otherwise, however, as they reckoned that they were not so useful. I saw trekkers slipping over even though they were using crampons. I’d look into it for next time.
- Sleeping bag – we got away without bringing a sleeping bag and we were okay. If it was a busier time though, we would have been quite cold and miserable. What’s more, if it had snowed us in and we were stuck in a place, there would have been more trekkers stuck in the same tea-house all chasing extra blankets. If I did the Circuit again, I would bring a small lightweight sleeping bag with me. Mishal says that next time she would still go bag-less so that she could avoid the extra weight.
- Guidebook + map –
- The map that we used was next to useless! There are different versions out there… The track on our particular version indicated very few side trails and had very limited explanation of place names. We ended up relying on other people and their maps each night or talking with the guides. The guides are invaluable and a rich source of knowledge.
- Andrées de Ruiter and Prem Rai write a really helpful guidebook. You can get this pretty cheaply at trekking shops in Thamel or Pokhara. We found the 2011 version online a really good approximation. While somewhat outdated now, Ruiter and Rai (2011) have a humorous take and give some great info on some of the side trips. When I arrived, I erroneously thought that there was one track that you followed. There is no one track, there’s a bunch of different trails that weave their way up the mountain…
- Sunglasses – We met two guys from France who after making it down off the pass had to wait in Ranipauwa for two days recovering from snow blindness. I was able to buy a pair for 200NRs in Manang but they weren’t designed for my big head, so had to improvise to get them to fit. Definitely bring along some polarised sunnies for your trip.
- Ziplock bags + Packing Cells – priceless. Useful for all sorts of things. You get used to unpacking and packing your bag pretty quickly, so these little items make life so much more comfortable and more efficient.
- Pegless clothesline – It gets really windy throughout the Annapurna region! Pegs are therefore pretty helpful at keeping your clothes on the clothesline. We washed our smalls each day and rotated them through but a pegless clothesline would have been useful. We were envious anyway of the organised people who brought their own. It was harder to wash larger items such as shirts and pants so these had to wait for the rest day to catch the morning sun.
- Sunblock – the sun is fierce on the snow especially. The altitude somehow too makes the sun so much hotter. We brought SPF30+ from home which more than did the trick. My brother in-law (who did the Annapurna Circuit last year) got sunblock here but said that it was so useless he ended up throwing it away.
- Head torch – getting up early for the pass? No electricity? You’ll want one to get back to your room when it all goes dark.
- e-Reader – Unreal! We found ourselves with a lot of spare time on our hands so the e-Reader was unreal. Snow Leopard, Little Princes & Snake Lake provided some light reading.
- Tea bags – The tea-houses make a small fortune out of providing cups of tea. A suggestion for next time? Bring your own tea bags and ask for plain hot water.
- Other items (in no particular order) –
- Extra socks (blisters are no fun – oh, and bring plenty of plasters in your first aid kit)
- First aid: didn’t use the altitude tablets and ascended slowly. Likewise, we didn’t need the anti-diarrhea or antibiotics either but we were lucky. I’d definitely bring these each time as you don’t want to get stuck up the mountain or anywhere in the subcontinent without these ones!
- Hot water bottle (Mishal swears by it)
- Buff/ magic scarf (cost about 250NRs in Thamel, super useful to keep wind out or protect your head from the sun)
- Waterbottles – we ended up recycling some soft drink bottles and used tablets to treat the water. 2L is plenty
- Chap-stick (or PawPaw) – super useful for the dripping nose and dry skin!
What didn’t we realise?
- Most of the places have wifi and power where you can contact the outside world. Not in every town and often you have to pay for the service but it’s helpful if you need to get in touch with friends and family. Often painfully slow and the speed of dial-up, nevertheless it’s helpful for messaging and accessing weather information. Sometimes the snow and storms can knock out the infrastructure, so don’t go relying on it!
- Going down is much harder than going up. We concentrated so hard on getting up to the pass that we didn’t realise the descent from Thorong La to the next tea house was going to be so hard. It’s always expectations but knowing that you’re walking for 2 hours or half an hour makes a huge difference!
- The day of the pass: the great debate! How early do you get up? The earlier the better. Basically, the air is more stable earlier in the morning and you want to be over the top before it picks up and gets going… Some people get up and going crazy early (3:30am for instance). It really depends on the pace that you can plod along at. We were told 5 hours to the Pass and found it to be about right. You might find that you’re quicker than the suggested time or slower also. We got going at 5:45am on the trail from Thorong Phedi but in hindsight wished we had have started earlier to avoid the snow fall later that day. It’s difficult to predict though and being an alpine area, you need to be prepared for all the eventualities. We couldn’t help thinking about the October 2014 disaster. Much of this situation was beyond control but there’s also things that could still be done to prevent it happening again. Being the majority world however, wheels turn slowly…