An immense ice pyramid, glittering in the sun like a crystal, rose up more than 23,000 feet above us. The south face, shining blue through the morning mists, was unbelievably lofty, out of this world. We were speechless in the face of this tremendous mountain.
French Mountaineer Maurice Herzog, on his first sight of Dhaulagiri in 1950
The Annapurna Circuit
11-18 days trekking, depending on side trips
from US$ 1090 per person, Kathmandu to Pokhara
Herzog was one of the first westerners to see the Kali Gandaki river valley, the western leg of the trip, on his way to climb Annapurna. It took his party a year of preparation and two weeks walk just to get to their base camp. Today trekkers can make an entire circuit of the Annapurna Massif, more than 100 miles, with just determination and in less than two weeks. This classic trek is one of the most famous walks in the world, with good reason.
The most varied route in Nepal, this trek takes you from 1,500 feet/ 400 meters to 18,000 feet/5,400 meters and back. You'll meet ten ethnic groups, pass through four climate zones, and wear both t-shirts and your heaviest clothing.
Most of the route is at moderate altitude, and there is a high pass, the Thorong La, required to complete the circuit. The challenge of this pass brings a real feeling of accomplishment. Occasionally snow blocks the pass or the altitude is too much for someone, but folks in their 20s to 60s and distinctly non-athletic types can do this trek. A positive mental attitude and desire to walk the greatest trail on earth are all that are required.
One of our previous guests has written up her experiences on this route and the Annapurna Sanctuary, which she and her friend did as one trek. You might enjoy her journal.
Sample itinerary in 11 days
Day 1 Drive from Kathmandu to Besisahar, a boom-town that services the hydropower station a few km south. Change to a rugged bus and drive another 45 minutes up to Bhulbhule. Enter the Annapurna Conservation Area, cross a suspension bridge, and you are on trek. Stay here or walk up to Ngadi or even to Bahundanda as your time and energy permits.
Day 2 A long day to reach Tal, but only a few hundred meters of net elevation gain from Bahundanda, as you follow along the river. A good day to stretch out the legs. <grin>
Day 3 Two days of significant altitude gain: Today trek to Bagarchap.
Day 4 Turn west, still following the Marsyangdi River, and trek to Chame.
Day 5 Trek to Pisang. There's an old monastery in the upper town that's worth a visit if your guide can find the caretaker.
Day 6 To Manang. There's a low, standard trail or you can take an upper trail partway, and visit two old towns, Ghyaru and Ngawal.
Day 7 Start the ascent to the Thorong La pass by going up to Yak Kharka or Ledar.
Day 8 Up to the pass jump-off point at Thorong Phedi ("phedi" means foot of the hill).
Day 9 Up and over the Thorong La, a wicked ascent followed by a long, long descent to Muktinath.
Day 10 Explore the temple complex and the little villages nearby, Jhong and Jharkot. Then down to Jomsom.
Day 11 Fly to Pokhara early A.M.