Annapurna Base Camp

We chose the Annapurna Base Camp Trek (7-10 days) for our first glimpse of Nepal and we were not disappointed. We tackled it alone – without a porter or a guide – and although we suffered under the weight of our packs at times, it was unquestionably worth the struggle. Day after day, we were humbled by some of the most regal mountains in the world and charmed by the warm and contagious “Namaste!” of the Nepalese people.

This trek can be modified to fit most fitness levels but it does require some planning and logistics, especially if you decide to do it as a “free trekker”, as we did. So in the spirit of exploration and shared knowledge, here is our itinerary, trail notes, and a few extra anecdotes to add a bit of color to our journey.


DAY 1: POKHARA – BIRETHANTI – BAN THANTI

DAY 2: BAN THANTI – POON HILL – DEURALI

DAY 3: DEURALI – TADAPANI – CHHOMRONG

DAY 4: CHHOMRONG – BAMBOO – HIMALAYA

DAY 5: HIMALAYA – MACHHAPUCRE BASE CAMP (MBC)

DAY 6: MBC – ANNAPURNA BASE CAMP (ABC) – SINUWA

DAY 7: SINUWA – LANDRUK – TOLKA

DAY 8: TOLKA – KANDE – POKHARA


DAY 1: POKHARA – BIRETHANTI – BAN THANTI

Start: 6:30AM (from Pokhara by bus – 250r), 9:15AM (first checkpoint)

Finish: 3:00PM, Lunch at 2:00PM in Ulleri

Approx. Walking Time: 5 hrs 30 min

Altitude: 1025m – 2210m

Weather: Sunny and comfortably warm, approx. 23 degrees Celsius, fog and a light mist rolled in around 4pm

Food: (*momos are a kind of Nepalese dumpling)

(L) Vegetable egg momos* – 400r, Coca Cola 500 ml – 200r

(D) Ginger tea – 60r, Cheese macaroni – 450r, Vegetable noodle soup – 250r

Guesthouse: Ban Thanti Guesthouse, on the the left side of the trail, one of the last guesthouses before leaving Ban Thanti. *Note: We negotiated a free room in exchange for having dinner and breakfast at the guesthouse. This only works when there is low demand for rooms.

Observations: We took a taxi from our hostel to the Pokhara bus stop for 1000r. It was a holiday in Nepal and very early in the morning (we wanted to take the 6:30AM bus) so it was difficult to negotiate a better price. Due to the holiday, the bus was overflowing with people, suitcases, boxes of beer, bags of rice, and even a few live chickens. We shoved ourselves into the melee and managed to find a seat just as the bumping along began.

One tries to grin and bear it in these extended situations of chaotic discomfort. I quietly insisted that “it could always be worse,” but in this particular situation, it actually did get a bit worse. A woman called out to the bus driver in a sudden frantic wail, the kind one might use when they realize they’ve accidentally left their child behind at the supermarket. There was consternation between the passengers and the driver while Damián and I looked on, waiting for the fate of our bus ride to become clear.

As it turned out, the woman had forgotten something important enough that it merited turning the bus around on the edge of a cliff and backtracking almost all the way to our starting point so she could pick it up. Incredulously, the Nepalese passengers did not seem to be annoyed by this change of plans. They just smiled at us in their Shangri-la kind of way and settled back into their seats. So we decided to do the same. We felt certain that after eight days of trekking we would probably miss even the bumpiest, most miserable of bus rides.

About 3.5 hours, one turn around and two roadblocks later, we reached the checkpoint where the Annapurna Base Camp Trek begins. From the checkpoint, the trail starts as a wide, uphill gravel road followed by about 2.5 hours of a punishing stone staircase. However, we could not complain because the views of the lush, green valleys were immediately astonishing and every local Nepalese who passed us (and they all passed us) was in a much worse state of affairs.

There was a man in flip-flops carrying a heavy wooden table on his back. It hung by a strap from his forehead. The porters carried all of their loads this way – in flip flops and forehead straps – making me wonder if anyone had ever tripped and snapped their neck. Beleaguered burro trains stumbled their way forward with butane tanks pressed against their sides, making their every breath a useless battle, and an ancient-looking woman came down the trail in no shoes at all. Yet I probably stared the most when we were passed by a tall blonde tourist with a go-pro strapped to her head. She was followed by three sweaty porters carrying an excessive amount of luggage and none of them looked more than sixteen years old.

It was an interesting start to the trek, a completely new kind of people-watching.

DAY 2: BAN THANTI – POON HILL – DEURALI

Start: 7:00AM

Finish: 2:00PM, Brunch in Upper Ghorepani at 9:30AM

Approx. Walking Time: 6 hrs 30 min

Altitude: 2210m, 3210m, 3150m

Weather: Sunny and comfortably warm, approx. 22 degrees Celsius. Partly cloudy at Poon Hill after about 9AM.

Food:

(B) Muesli with milk – 300r

(L) Vegetable momos – 500r, Coca-Cola – 200r

(D) Dal soup with cheese – 350r, Tibetan bread – 200r, Mushroom soup with cheese – 350r

Guesthouse:  Green View Hotel. We negotiated a free room in exchange for eating dinner and breakfast there. This was a very rustic guesthouse, probably the most basic of the three options you have in Deurali, but we were too tired to care and it was the first option we saw. The owners are very friendly and helpful.

Observations:  The endless stairway to heaven continues for a bit on day 2, but the 2 hour climb to Ghorephani from Ban Thanti is easy. Here, there is a Lower and Upper Ghorepani. You must pass through the checkpoint at Lower Ghorepani, but for a rest and a snack break,  the views are prettier at Upper Ghorepani. Upper Ghorepani is also the access point for the famous Poon Hill Lookout. It is recommended to go at sunrise or sunset for the best views (50r surcharge) but as we were on a different schedule, we went after a momos snack and decided to try our luck with finding a break in the clouds.

It was an arduous, leg-burning two hour climb to reach the lookout point and (as we had been warned) it was completely clouded over. Regardless, we enjoyed the moment in the clouds because we were alone. Poon Hill gave the impression that it was a tourist hot spot at sunrise and sunset. There were food stands and bathrooms and many informational signs, but at midday, all was quiet. We were able to wander around and freely admire the wildflowers, great splashes of color against the gray-white clouds and we caught our breath, slow and steady, without having to share the space with any other soul. In our minds, we had timed it just right.

After descending back down to Ghorepani, we decided to push on, not feeling that we had put in a full day’s walk. However, the distances on our map were quite relative and we had unknowingly signed ourselves up for an even more brutal climb until we reached Deurali at 3150m. We were quite proud to be doing the trek without a guide or a porter and we were both fit enough to do so, but this was a stretch where we definitely felt the weight of that decision with every step. It was excruciating.

We kept ourselves alive by guzzling water and taking frequent breaks to contemplate the vast immensity of the Himalayas. We discovered new and deeper nuances to the meaning of  “muscle fatigue” and “just a few more meters” but finally, we limped into our destination.

We collapsed in the dining room of the first open guesthouse and we were in such a state that our hosts immediately served us two shots of Nepalese moonshine. It is called raksi and it is made from millet.

“Happy Dashain!” they cheered.

I will never be sure if it was due to my relief of arrival or the skill of the Nepalese bootlegger, but it was the best damn moonshine I’ve ever tasted.

Our hosts built us a fire and we curled up under a giant picture of the Dalai Lama to rest our weary legs. We were the only guests in the guesthouse so we had the place to ourselves. We watched a terrible Indian soap opera on an old TV that turned everything green and hung our sweat-soaked clothes above the wood burner. Occasionally, a rooster or a goat would wander through the dining room door before the wife would come and shoo it out again.

Towards dusk, the wife’s sister arrived with a huge haul of handmade yak wool hats, mittens, scarves, and blankets on her back. She had come from the Upper Mustang region with her young daughter to sell their handiwork for the tourist season. The season officially started tomorrow, the first of October, and there was definitely a feeling of celebration and anticipation in the air.

DAY 3: DEURALI – TADAPANI – CHHOMRONG

Start: 5:30AM (for sunrise hike)

Finish: 3:15PM, Lunch in Tadapani at 11AM

Approx. Walking Time: 7 hrs 30 min

Altitude: 3150m, 2630m, 2170m

Weather: Sunny with mostly clear skies but fog and rain set in at about 3PM

Food:

(B) Muesli with buffalo milk – 400r, Cheese omelette – 270r

(L) Vegetable cheese momos – 500r

(D) Veggie rice curry – 450r, Gurung bread – 200r, Vegetable noodle soup – 250r

Guesthouse: Himalaya View Guesthouse and Restaurant – 400r

Observations: A lesser known secret is the lookout point of Deurali. We were told that it is as equally spectacular as Poon Hill and this time, we were able to greet the first rays of a new day and again, there was no else around. It is a 20 minute uphill hike along a goat path until you reach a watch tower that showcases the mountains in all their glory. The view was exactly the teaser we needed to keep pushing ourselves forward on another long day of hiking. The mountains were calling.

The stretch from Deurali to Tadapani was also one of our favorite parts of the trek. It is mostly downhill and parallel to a noisy rushing river. Sometimes there are steps but other sections are flat. You are privy to a lush wall of forest greenery and many waterfalls, big and small. This section is shaded, an unexpected respite from an otherwise relentless sun and there are enough fords that you may even want to stop and soak your tired feet. We crossed two shaky suspension bridges and creeped our way uphill towards Tadapani. We were still mostly alone, with an occasional passerby, but this would be our last day of relative serenity.

In Tadapani, we stopped for our standard serving of momos and then continued on our way. The next stretch required us to descend way too much only in order to ascend once again, but this is a pattern that repeats itself many times in the mountain. It’s all too familiar in that it reflects the cyclical nature of life’s events.

We encountered a few big bulls sitting leisurely in the middle of the path and were forced to press ourselves up against the brush in order to pass. We also witnessed three or four rowdy goat parades, always followed by a farmer with a few missing teeth. The Nepalese are always friendly and incredibly spry, shouting “Namaste!” before you even know they are coming down the trail.

As we neared Chhomrong, we almost immediately noticed the bottleneck that would characterize the next few days of our hike. It was as if someone had released the flood gates of Asia directly onto the ABC trail. We were surrounded by Chinese and Koreans dressed so immaculately in expensive hiking gear that they looked ready for a kind of class war. Instead of transistor radios, they had brought blue tooth speakers that pumped out high pitched pop music and selfie sticks for weapons.

We did our best to outrun them but there were far too many. When we finally reached Chhomrong, there were Asians everywhere. As Chhomrong is a junction point for many different routes that all lead to the Annapurna Base Camp, this was to be expected. It was also the first of October, one of the Nepalese porters reminded us as he observed our state of shock, the beginning of the Chinese holidays.

We were somewhat caught off guard by the idea of “the Chinese hiker” but we could not deny the reality we were seeing.

Thus, we fell asleep to the harsh syllables of the Chinese language and the whiny voice of Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time.”  We wondered how we had gotten so close to heaven only to arrive in a very specific kind of hell and we worried what tomorrow would bring.

DAY 4: CHHOMRONG – BAMBOO – HIMALAYA

Start: 7:00AM

Finish: 2:20PM, Lunch in Bamboo at 11:00AM

Approx. Walking Time: 6 hrs 15 min

Altitude: 2170m, 2310m, 2920m

Weather: Approx. between 15-13 degrees, partly cloudy, started sprinkling lightly around 1:30PM. A full on downpour began at 3PM and did not let up most of the night. Temperatures dropped drastically. It was a very cold night.

Food:

(B) Muesli with milk – 300r

(L) Vegetable cheese momos – 450r (the best momos on the mountain!)

(D) Vegetable noodle soup – 350r, Vegetable fried rice with egg – 440r, Ginger tea – 90 r

Guesthouse: Himalaya Guesthouse – 400r

Observations: Wake up as early as you can for amazing views of Annapurna South at sunrise. In Chhomrong, there is the second checkpoint that you must pass before you continue towards base camp. This is about a third of the way down the stairs as you are leaving the town, on your left side. For all those stairs you descend, you will have to cross a bridge and start climbing steadily back up again, so pace yourself.

However, after this epic descent-ascent, the grade levels out quite a bit. We were pushing as hard as we could because the number of people on the trail made us nervous about finding accommodation. As we had chosen to do the trek without a guide, we were at a disadvantage. Only the guides can call ahead and reserve rooms. Free hikers do not have this privilege. How sad that in order to climb this mountain, most must prove both their physical and their financial clout.

We climbed across a sketchy landslide area and over some unstable bamboo bridge crossings. We even encountered some sections of melting ice that slowed us down a little, but nothing too serious. Wherever we looked, there were majestic waterfalls hurtling down the sides of the mountains (and more Asians).

In Dobhan, we stopped to take a rest and a man from Singapore ran over and introduced himself with a warm smile. “Hey! Are you guys from Wisconsin?!” Damián was wearing his “Wisconsin: California of the Midwest” t-shirt, so I interjected to let him know who was the real “cheesehead.”

“I went to the University of Madison,” he said. “I really miss Spotted Cow and the Monona Terrace. And the Green Bay Packers!”

I almost hugged him. That little reminder of home put some extra spunk into my step. As we got closer to Himalaya, our destination for the day, the uphill climb became a little more brutal.

Fortunately, there is always something that keeps you light. This time, it was a group of ten Nepalese trekkers who passed us, singing lovely mountain songs at the top of their lungs.

When we finally reached the tiny rest point of Himalaya, things almost took a turn for the worse. The place was swarming with trekkers so I quickly checked for accommodation in the two guesthouses, only to be turned away.

I reported the bad news back to Damián and we stood there in the middle of the chaos for a moment, in dispirited disbelief. I had promised my tattered body a bed and now we would have to negotiate a cold floor – or maybe even turn back.

Yet just as our morale began to fold into itself and disappear into the mist, the owner of one of the guesthouses appeared outside and motioned quickly for us to follow him. He led the way down a flight of stairs and around the back of the guesthouse where he opened the dilapidated door to an extremely basic room.

It could be better described as a stable room. There was mold on the ceiling, cobwebs in the corners, and cracks in the walls that allowed you to see into the other room next door. There was no lock on the door and it was daftly cold. But there were two beds and at that moment, it was the most beautiful room that Damián and I had ever laid eyes on.

We clapped our hands together and nearly kissed the guesthouse owner.”Ohhhh thank you thank you thank you!” I cheered. He smiled sheepishly as he backed out of the room and left us to our privacy.

We immediately began to dance like children.

We got a room, we got a room, nananananana!

Life’s simple pleasures can never be overstated. The magic had somehow returned to our trek in the midst of the Asian invasion.

That night, we bonded with the full house of trekkers over warm soup and ginger tea. Everyone was in joyful spirits because we were within reach of the Annapurna Base Camp. Those of us going up were on our way to see the coveted landscape that we had so yearned for in these last four days of struggle and those who had just come down were brimming with wonder and delight at the majesty they had just witnessed above.

We naturally gravitated towards the other Spanish speakers, two Mexicans both named Santiago and a Spanish speaking young German girl that they had adopted along the way. One of them was reading the French philosopher Descartes, A Discourse on the Method, and this led us on a long and winding discussion about life and literature. It felt wonderfully surreal to be having a conversation with two Mexicans, an Argentinean, and a German on top of the world, stuffed in a tiny little guesthouse with so many other nationalities. It could be summarized by Descartes’ own quest for knowledge:

“I entirely abandoned the study of letters. Resolving to seek no knowledge other than that of which could be found in myself or else in the great book of the world, I spent the rest of my youth traveling, visiting courts and armies, mixing with people of diverse temperaments and ranks, gathering various experiences, testing myself in the situations which fortune offered me, and at all times reflecting upon whatever came my way so as to derive some profit from it.”

That night, in our frigid little stable room, Damián and I pushed the beds together and locked ourselves in our coldest, warmest embrace. We slept soundly and cozily, burning with the desire for the final ascent.

DAY 5: HIMALAYA – MACHHAPUCRE BASE CAMP (MBC)

Start: 6:40AM

Finish: 10:15AM, Lunch at MBC at 11:00AM

Approx. Walking Time: 3 hrs 30 min

Altitude: 2920m, 3700m

Weather: Beautiful, sunny morning with temps around 17 degrees Celsius. Fog and clouds rolled in around noon.

Food:
(B) Trail mix and granola bars

(L) Vegetable cheese momos – 610r, Ginger tea – 120r, Vegetable noodle soup – 370r

(D) Pizza with too much garlic – 680r, Veggie omelette – 360r

Guesthouse: The dining room of the Fishtail Guesthouse – 100r

Observations: We awoke with a start, eager to stake our claim on a bed at the Machhapucre Base Camp (MBC). Our plan was to spend the night at MBC and summit at sunrise to ABC. This way, we did not have to spend the night at the highest altitude, decreasing our risk of altitude sickness.

The trail started off as a tough uphill climb but then leveled out again. There was another significant ascent to Deurali (yes, there are two Deuralis on the ABC trek) but after this, the trail again went flat and meandered nicely along a riverbed. There was a final steep ascent to MBC of loose rock and gravel that was mostly difficult because of the number of people going up and down at the same time. The sign that announces you have reached MBC is a little deceptive. There is one guesthouse at the top of a staircase there, but the actual base camp is about six more minutes up the trail, hidden from view by a ridge line.

Even though we arrived at base camp by 10:30AM, all of the guesthouses were already full. There was no way that we were turning back so we negotiated with one of the guesthouses owners to sleep in the dining room. (This is common practice in the high season). Now, it was just a question of waiting out the rest of the day and acclimatizing ourselves before tomorrow’s early morning summit.

Waiting around was not an easy task. My body had grown used to pushing itself to the limit for the last few days and the sudden inertia upset its rhythm. More and more Asians continued to arrive and it seemed as though their conversations were getting louder and louder, but we had no way to escape the dining room. We had to make sure we held on to our sleeping spots as if our lives depended on it.

A helicopter came to deliver supplies and had to attempt take off three times before finally finding its way out of the fog that had set in by noon. A half-hinged girl from the UK tried to befriend me and tell me her life story (why do I always look like the friendly one?). Something about a man that she met on an island who still doesn’t understand they have a spiritual connection and that once she gets back home, she’ll go back to living in a van and selling weed as “that’s the best way for it.” Eventually, she grew irritated with the spotty wifi connection and decided to pack up her stuff and head for the Annapurna Base Camp for the night. I am both relieved and bewildered. Why would anyone would hike all the way up here and expect internet? Yet everyone who walked into the guesthouse immediately wanted to know about the wifi.

As the day dragged on, more and more people piled into the guesthouse: free hikers, more Asians, Nepalese porters, a family of four… The guesthouse owner looked up in worried disbelief every time he heard a pair of boots touch the steps, but he never turned anyone away. When we complimented him on the depths of his hospitality, he admitted that this was the most people he had ever hosted in a night.

When all the dinners had been served and it was finally time for lights out, the dining room was filled to the brim with weary hikers and porters. There were people sleeping on the tables, on benches, and on the floor. The guides had pitched four giant tents outside and the cooks and the guesthouse family were all bedded down in the kitchen. I can only imagine that the other guesthouses looked the same.

The sound of collective snoring was both apocalyptic and soothing. Here was a scene that I would never forget: all the corners of the world coming together to rest their tired bones in a communal dining room bed. Regardless of our nationality, we all dreamt the same. We were called by the promise to touch the heavens and we would do whatever we could to make sure that everyone had that chance.

DAY 6: MBC – ANNAPURNA BASE CAMP (ABC) – SINUWA

Start: 3:50AM (to reach ABC before sunrise)

Finish: 3:35PM, Lunch in Bamboo at 1:30PM

Approx. Walking Time: 8 hrs 50 min

Altitude: 3700m, 4130m, 2360m

Weather: Sunny, clear skies, very cold

Food:

(B) Trail mix and granola bars

(L) Best momos ever in Bamboo – 450r

(D) Veggie burger with chips and salad – 550r, Vegetable noodle egg soup – 350r

Guesthouse: Sinuwa Guesthouse – 400r. The only rooms that were available were in a small auxiliary shed made of plywood and a tin roof. We slept directly above a cooking area so this was also not ideal, but accommodation was extremely scarce.

Observations: The dining room came to life in the darkness at 3:00AM. The light crinkling of sleeping bags and the clacking of trekking poles announced our intention for the final ascent. The prized jewel of reaching the Annapurna Base Camp is to see the range in its glory at sunrise and that requires an early start.

A long skinny line of bobbing headlamps snaked its way up the mountainside and served as a guide to the ABC. It was difficult to see anything except for this streak of light and the two feet of dirt directly in front of me. I could hear the roar of what sounded like a fast-moving river, but later I realized it was the darkness that amplified its size. In the daylight, it was no more than a running stream, but in the early hours of the morning, I took my steps with fear that I might plunge into an icy fate.

Damián moved faster than me. Despite his autoimmune disease, he always seems to be virtually unaffected by any other malady. For me, however, I felt as though altitude had shoved its bony hand down my throat and yanked out all of my desire to live. I moved deliberately, unable to contemplate the distance, and I breathed like someone who had forgotten how.

For awhile, Damián disappeared and I was alone in the darkness. I could only hear the sound of the river mixed with my hoarse gasps for oxygen and I suddenly became acutely aware of my own utter insignificance. The vast night sky of distant stars that brooded above seem to confirm this conclusion with their shining complacency and I had no desire to disagree. I was at ease with being a speck of dust, a sneeze of existence. I felt indescribably light and free.

Then, out of nowhere, Damián turned on his headlight and nearly startled me into a stroke. He had been sitting on a rock, waiting for me to catch up.

¡Jesus!” I wheezed, jumping a mile. “¡¿Pero qué haces?!

“Are you dying?” he asked nonchalantly.

“No,” I lie, desperately trying to reign in my breathing. “Let’s keep moving, Superman.”

We reach the Annapurna Base Camp with plenty of time to walk around and find the best places to position ourselves for the first rays of sunshine. It is deathly cold but the anticipation is electrifying and warm.

When the sun finally does show itself on the horizon, the view is beyond words. It is something that almost supersedes the capacity of the human mind, as though this great big ball of fire is bursting into bloom from the center of your own heart. Meanwhile, the mountains remain quiet and self-effacing. They are seemingly unaware of the spotlight that has been cast directly upon them, even as a unified gasp of “ohhhh” brushes across their creviced faces. I found myself wishing that there was a way to snow globe this moment.

Yet seconds later, it became a little more difficult to enjoy. The frenzy of photo-snapping and selfies began in earnest and it was almost impossible to find a lookout point unaffected by the human plague. We tried to be patient and polite but slowly, a small lump of sadness began forming in our throats. There are simply too many of us in the world and we’re driving each other all mad.

We spent as much time as we could at ABC – soaking up those first rays of sun – before it was necessary to begin our descent. We were overjoyed, proud, and not at all surprised to find the Basque flag, the ikurriña, billowing in the wind next to the many Nepalese prayer flags. Of course, the Basques had already been here first. They are world-class mountaineers. And of course, the Basque Country would find a way to remind us – even in one of the most grandiose places on Earth – that there is no place quite like home.

DAY 7: SINUWA – LANDRUK – TOLKA

Start: 5:35AM

Finish: 2:40PM, Lunch in Landruk at 12:20PM

Approx. Walking Time: 8 hrs 30 min

Altitude: 2360m,1565m,1750m

Weather: Clear skies and hot!

Food:

(B) Masala tea – 90r, Veggie omelette – 250r (in Chhomrong)

(L) Vegetable cheese momos – 350r

(D) Noodle soup – 320r, Tibetan bread – 280r

Guesthouse: Hotel Namaste – 300r

Observations: We finished yesterday at our wit’s end but we were lucky to find accommodation. Another barn-like shack that served our basic needs. We met more than one trekker on the trail that had been forced to turn around and go back because even the dining rooms were full.

When we made it to Chhomrong, the checkpoint told us that they had registered a record number of 900 visitors the day before. There are not nearly enough guesthouses on the last leg of the ABC for that number of people, not even by a small stretch. We couldn’t understand why the Nepalese Tourism Board wasn’t interested in regulating the number of people on the trail. It is a disappointing reality for trekkers, especially for free trekkers like us who want to go at it alone, not to mention the fact that it is irresponsible and dangerous to be sending people up a mountain without a safe place to sleep.

Furthermore, with so many people on the trail, the amount of trash was very disheartening. Such a pristine natural environment can be irrevocably damaged in a short period of time if something is not done to monitor the impact of so many visitors. All along the way, we picked up trash and packed it out with us, quietly cursing the mediocrity of human beings.

Today’s hike was almost all descent, with the exception of the initial climb back up to Chhomrong. Our knees suffered greatly but our spirits remained high at the memory of achieving our goal. We decided to hike out through Landruk in order to exchange our return route for some new scenery.

Many people get a jeep in Landruk where widened gravel roads make it possible to reach these mountainous villages, but we were determined to finish the whole hike on foot.

We walked until we could walk no more. We passed a water buffalo swimming party, a herd of goats camped out (literally) in the trees, village after village of smiling children, a town volleyball game in full swing, and field after field of rice. Each time we felt like stopping, we huffed a little further under the hot sun, until finally a charming, well-kept guesthouse appeared out of nowhere just outside of Tolka.

It had beautiful well-kept grounds, some great reggae tunes coming out of the kitchen, and a smiling owner who promised us hot water and views of the snow-capped peaks. It was a glorious evening. We ate like kings and slept like babies and if we could’ve, I think we would have stayed there for days.

DAY 8: TOLKA – KANDE – POKHARA

Start: 7:15AM

Finish: 10:20AM in Kande, 11:45AM in Pokhara (depends on buses)

Approx. Walking Time: 3 hrs 30 min

Altitude: 1700m, 1770m, 828m

Weather: Sunny with clear skies

Food:

(B) Veggie omelette – 250r, Masala tea – 100r, Muesli with milk & fruit – 350r

(L) & (D) Eating our hearts out in Pokhara – finally!

Hotel: Hotel Mountain View – $10

Observations: Today was our last day on the trail so it was easy to stay motivated. Yet at the same time, we were not too eager to abandon the simplicity of our routine. Getting up and walking was all we had known for a week.

The shortcut from Tolka to Deurali required another grueling uphill climb but afterwards, the path pans out into a nice wooded area. We passed through the last checkpoint in Pothana around 9:20AM. It was a pretty town and if we had organized our itinerary differently, it would have been a nice place to stay.

Just before we reached Kande, our exit point for the ABC trek, we had a bad experience. We were stopped by two young children who had linked their arms together and demanded money for our passing. We politely refused and when the children did not move, we had to physically separate them and set them aside so that we could pass.

Then, just a few meters down the road, the same scenario repeated itself but with two different children. It seems that all the children are coming from the same village where this game is being taught.

We had met so many wonderful, hospitable Nepalese on our trek that it was a shame that it had to end on such a sour note, but it was an important reminder of some of the negative aspects of so much tourism.

Our bus ride back to civilization was as equally entertaining as our journey out to the trek. Just when it seemed that no one else could be squeezed onto the bus, somebody sucked in their stomach or stuck their head out the window, and another was pushed on board. Some of the young boys grabbed on to the outside of the windows and leaned out the door, hanging on for dear life. It was exhilarating to watch them (from my safe seat on the bus) – they looked so young and invincible, hurtling down the highway with only one firm hand to save them from a face plant down the mountainside.

They smiled playfully at me, as if to say, “Feels good to be alive, doesn’t it?”

I smiled back at them and for all of Nepal.

Yes, it does. It does, indeed.

-Ashley

INFORMATION FOR DIABETICS

Completing the 8-day Annapurna Base Camp Trek with diabetes is not an impossible task but it is important to take some extra precautions. For example, Damián needed a few days on the trail to re-calculate and adjust the exact dose of his insulin injection to meet his activity levels. With his Tresiba, he could not lower his dose of slow-acting insulin as a way to avoid hypoglycemia because Tresiba works over a 48-hour period (unlike Lantus). Thus, it was easier for him to make modifications to the fast-acting insulin by reducing the dose.

Let’s use his breakfast as an easy example to start with. Normally, Damián injects approximately 15 units of fast-acting insulin each morning, but as he knew he was going to be walking strenuously for many hours, he only gave himself 3 units. Two hours later, he checked his levels and he was perfectly stable. At noon, we made sure to eat the same meal every day – momos and a Coca-Cola. (Momos are a kind of Nepalese style dumpling that can be prepared fried or boiled.) We still had a few more hours of walking after this meal, so Damián would skip his post-meal injection and two hours later, he would check his levels. He remained on target. Finally, Damián would reduce his fast-acting insulin dose by 40%-50% at dinnertime to compensate for the day’s exercise.

It is extremely important to remember that every person is different and Damián’s modifications are just an example of how to potentially re-calculate the dose. Each person should continue to check their levels regularly and carefully to see how they respond to the change in activity. In any case, such a drastic change in physical activity such as trekking a minimum of five hours a day will inevitably require some reduction to your insulin intake.

In the initial days of the trek, Damián was still testing out the exact dose he would need so he suffered minor hypoglycemia. However, we always kept a supply of Gluc Up 15 on hand to bring him back up, as well as some granola and mixed nuts to keep him going.

We carried the insulin supply using the gel pack pouches provided by Medactiv. You can activate the cooling mechanism of the gel packs in 40 seconds by running it under cold water. As there were water spigots in every village we passed, we never had to worry about keeping the insulin cool. Frequently, a curious onlooker would come over to see what we were doing. There usually wasn’t enough English between the two of us to explain diabetes but they were certainly impressed by the cooling system.

The ABC trek is a serious undertaking and there are risks involved so it is absolutely vital to have a good insurance plan. We were covered by Correduría Barchilon, a Spanish insurance company that specializes in diabetics. Not all insurance plans will cover trekking expeditions either so it is important to research a plan carefully.

PACKING LIST & KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

You will need to apply for 2 permissions before entering the Annapurna Sanctuary. (One of them is called the TIMS card and the other is the trekking permit). This can be done in Kathmandu or Pokhara at the Nepal Tourism Board office prior to your trek. Each permit costs $20 and you will also need to bring two passport size photos.

We stocked up on cheap and good, knock-off quality hiking gear in Kathmandu and Pokhara before our trek. I got a great down feather North “Fake” jacket for $12 that kept me perfectly warm for our ascent to 4,000m. A sleeping bag was really only necessary for the two nights before we reached ABC, but I was glad I had it. I rented one for a few bucks in Pokhara.

  • chlorine tablets and stainless steel water bottles (DO NOT BRING ANY PLASTIC ON THE TRAIL – NOT COOL). We went through approximately 4-5 liters of water a day. We would alternate filling up water bottles at each water station since you have to wait approximately 30 minutes for the chlorine tablet to activate.
  • hiking poles – these were lifesavers for making the descent less traumatic on our knees
  • rain jacket
  • durable, waterproof hiking boots
  • 2 t-shirts, 1 long sleeve shirt, 1 pair of trekking pants – quick dry recommended
  • lots of snack food (you can buy things in the villages but the prices go up the higher you are)
  •  4 pairs of socks (2 liners and 2 thick) & whatever underwear you need
  • winter hat & gloves
  • lightweight down feather jacket
  • headlamp
  • sun block and hat
  • first aid kit
  • micro towel
  • soap (we didn’t really shower because hot water was hard to come by, but we weren’t exactly staying at the nicest guesthouses)
  • approx $30 day for food and lodging for 2 people (you probably won’t spend all of this, but it’s always better to overestimate)
  • a backpack with good back support
  • a cheerful disposition!

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