Part 1: Prepping for the Annapurna Circuit
Because I found other blog posts related to the Annapurna Circuit to be immensely helpful when I was prepping for the trek, here is our own ‘comprehensive’ list of things we think would-be Annapurna trekkers would wanna know.
And, because I am a blabbermouth and can’t seem to shut up sometimes, the original post is divided into two, making it easier for you, dear readers, to skim or skip altogether.
Important note: these posts mostly apply to people teahouse trekking in the spring months of March-April. Also really only applies to people who are considering trekking independently and not with a tour group.
This post contains information related to:
Important questions related to prepping for the trek
Suggested packing list
Together, we spent almost 350 euros from start to finish, in 17 days. 175 euros each is more than we would’ve liked, but still less of an amount than most other people said they’d spent. And this includes a lot of sweets bought on the trail. (The 350 euros does not include the permits we had to buy in Kathmandu.)
It will cost one person 3,770nrs (33€/$43) for the ACAP permit and individual TIMS.
Budget about 1500 nrs per day per person. (The goal is not to spend that much but…)
We spent 2,460rs in Bhraga but we stayed two nights, so that was 1,230rs each night. Otherwise, our lodge/meal bills (for two) stayed under 2,000rs until Yak Kharka. Prices are highest at Thorong Phedi, and Ghorepani prices are similarly high.
Important note: There are no ATMs on the way (though there are places to exchange currency) so stock up on rupees beforehand. Separate the wad and put in different places.
How to plan it?
First step is to get on a plane to Kathmandu. Don’t book with an agency outside of Nepal, it will just cost you more money, and it can be done in a single day for cheap here in Kathmandu or Pokhara. We don’t usually book through tour agencies, and for a popular route like the Annapurna Circuit, going with an agency really isn’t necessary unless you feel like having someone else plan everything for you.
Shopping: do it at home or in Nepal?
Pretty much anything you’d need for a trek can be bought here. Granted, the north faces are never the real thing, despite their fancy tags; most things here are fake and often poor imitations. But the majority of the stuff sold in stores is durable enough for at least one major trek. Depending on where you come from, prices are comparatively cheaper, but for the quality of the things you buy it’s entirely debatable. It’s up to the hiker to decide whether to buy for long term wear or to buy then discard (er, donate) if necessary.
Many things can be rented too, for long-term travelers who don’t want to buy just to have to pass it on afterwards or carry later (like us). Backpacks, sleeping bags, coats can be rented out. Didn’t inquire but I assume there could be more things on offer when looking to rent.
Short answer: personal preference, but know that you can get what you need in Nepal.
Guide or porter?
A guide, in my opinion, is unnecessary unless you’re looking for one to fill you in with local information and point out geographical landmarks that are already clearly marked on maps. The trails are well marked, and there’s really only one direction to go in, so there’s no chance of staying lost for long. The alternate trails are mostly well marked too, and in any case, the villagers are always helpful–they’re already pointing the way before you need to ask.
If anyone asks, I did have a porter. He worked for no wages and never complained, and his name was S7’s Much Better Half. I carried my own weight the first few days but when the going got tough, Xiker reached into my pack and added to his, despite my feeble protestations. (Did I mention he was my much better half?)
A porter would’ve been a nice luxury and was a constant topic of discussion before the trek. Especially for a lazy American like me. I muttered that I just want to take photos and exclaim excitedly about flora and fauna, rather than huff and puff while hauling my stuff.
Xiker, on the other hand, wanted to do some “real” backpacking, and didn’t want to disgrace himself by handing over his stuff to a porter. Which I understood. So we hauled our stuff.
I was surprised to find nearly everyone else on the trail, except for the elderly and the odd few, carried their own packs. Some backpacks looked ridiculously heavy, but many packs were smaller than ours. Pack lightly and sparingly, and the load will be bearable. By the time we reached Poon Hill, I never noticed the weight on my back anymore. (Cinching at the waist helps wonders, and so is having a Much Better Half.)
If you do decide to hire a porter, well, good on you but do keep in mind how much to load upon your poor human mule. We happened to lift a bag that was about to be carried by a small, wiry old Nepali. It was so heavy I couldn’t lift it more than a few inches! And the owner(s) of the load’s contents were just visiting Poon Hill– a three day trip. I ask you, what could you possibly need on a three day trip into the hills? Certainly not your best evening wear.
Anyway, to sum it up: Neither. Buy yourself a map if you want, but even a map wasn’t really necessary. We left ours in the backpack until Jomsom.
We walked with our trusty Inov8 318GTX sneakers and it kept us dry the entire way (warm-not always but nothing a few layers of socks couldn’t fix). I’ve never felt comfortable in hiking boots to begin with, and refused to carry a heavy pair all over India for three months before using them. However, we were two of only a few people who wore trail sneakers, as almost everyone on the trail with us tramped in sturdy pairs that would’ve impressed Edumund Hillary. I didn’t feel as if I needed them, but for some people, ankle protection and warm toes is a priority.
Short answer: personal preference; and dependent on weather conditions.
Hemmed and hawed in Kathmandu and then Pokhara about whether to ‘invest’ in walking sticks or not. What would we do with them after the trekking adventures was the biggest concern–they don’t make an ideal donation to a children’s center.
We decided to bypass it, and the replacements presented themselves to us once we were on the trail. On the second night, in Chamche, we got ahold of two thin but solid enough bamboo poles. By the end of the third day, Xiker’d bought Gandalf for 50rs and we’d wondered how we’d thought we could survive without them. The thin ones I wielded were strong and rescued me many a time, whether we were going up hills, stumbling down stairs or balancing precariously on rocks while trying to ford rivers. I liked that they were all-natural and I loved the long length of it (no having to make adjustments every 15 minutes). We plan to take them on the Langtang trek.
Not only are the bamboo poles not aluminum or alloy or something that would eventually add to the local refuse pile, they can be repurposed. Deforestation is a concern, but a local lady in Muktinath wanted to buy Gandalf and offered 100rs, and there were many on the trail–Nepali and trekker alike–who eyed Gandalf with obvious admiration. Pack animals automatically shy away from a bamboo pole, apparently trained to fear the wrath of bamboo. A good bamboo pole like that must be worth its weight in rupees.
Short answer: get thyself a pair of bamboo poles. Take care of them, then regift them on your way out of the Circuit.
proof of the power bamboo poles wield in the mountains
After much discussion, we invested in a pair of thin fleece liners, square ‘sleeping bags’ complete with head cinch and half-side zipper. We figured this would be enough if the nights got extremely cold, and the hotels would have extra blankets if necessary. Turns out we didn’t need the liners after all (though we did use them). Hotels always had plenty of extra blankets, and there’s no heat like body heat anyway.
Short answer: If you’re traveling with a loved one, skip the sleeping bag! (This verdict most definitely applies to spring trekkers only)
What to do about water?
Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough purified water stations along the trail. A few were closed when we needed to fill up, and they were relatively far and few in between. And at 40 to 50 rupees per liter, its not exactly cheap.
Boiled water tastes awful and tang is kind of a bother to carry. I insisted on buying two packages of chemical aqua tabs just to be safe, and we had to use them much more than we’d thought.
We didn’t bring a filter and all the kinds of cloth we tried were just not cut out to be water filters. So we skipped the filter process and just asked the kitchens to fill it up with tap water, and we filled up from bathroom spouts and showerheads whenever a kitchen wasn’t available. We also filled up at village fountains. One pill per liter, and 40 minutes later, we were chugging down virtually tasteless water. We did just fine and didn’t suffer too much (I did have stomach cramps for a few days but bounced back).
Prepare to purify your water yourself (there are many different ways to do it).
In Jomsom we agreed with a fistbump that we were gonna finish this by walking the entire way to Naya Pul, one way or another. That meant Poon Hill was the last adversity on our trek. The climb and descent really isn’t too bad, and would require no more than 3 days even if you want to take it really easy. (We did it in 2 days) The valentine rhododendron forest that covers the knob of the hill is absolutely gorgeous and well worth the effort.
So, the real question of Poon Hill is whether to catch the sunrise or not. We had to shoulder our way past some really slow climbers, and there were at least 300 people at the top of the hill by the time the sun made its appearance. I might be singing a different tune if I were lucky enough to catch the mountains on a clear morning, though.
Verdict: I say finish the trek with Poon Hill, but skip the dawn crowd and go up around 8.
Suggested Packing List
Obviously, it’s a tradeoff between a heavy pack and having luxuries or a light pack and going without. The goal here is to pack as lightly as possible.
Be prepared to do laundry almost every afternoon, so bring clothespins–all lodges had clotheslines for trekkers. Be doubly prepared to just wallow in your skankiness if a hot shower and/or laundry ain’t gonna happen.
In addition to your passport/permit/TIMS and hiking boots, you will need:
-1 pair of trek-friendly pants (ssh, I didn’t wash mine the whole trek)
-1 pair of tights/longjohn bottoms
-2 quickdry longsleeves (one thin, one thick for nights and cold mornings)
-1 quickdry tshirt (yes just one)
-wind proof sweater
-warm jacket (for high altitude evenings and possibly the pass)
-1 or 2 pair thick socks
-3 pairs socks for everyday hiking
-3 pairs underwear (1 sports bra. go braless as it dries after washing)
optional: shorts (xiker’s pants were zip-offs). Culturally, women don’t expose their legs but I was glad to wear mine (and I refuse to don unflattering zipoffs).
-one good backpack that fits comfortably
-waterproof pack cover
-flipflops (your feet need to breathe at the end of the day)
-sunlotion and chapstick (absolutely necessary)
-UV sunglasses (also necessary)
-soap/laundry soap (can be bought along the way. shampoo also)
-gloves and warm cap, scarf or tube (necessary no matter the season)
-2 water bottles (yes 2. we each carried 2 1L bottles)
-whistle (you cannot and WILL NOT get lost, but this is nice to have…just in case.)
-basic first aid kit (and I mean basic. Pack what you need and don’t let the ‘what ifs’ get the best of you)
-diamox (optional- we did without)
(items not absolutely necessary but might come in handy if you feel like toting the extra weight)
-duct tape (not the whole roll)
-a few plastic bags (you’ll accumulate a lot while shopping in Kathmandu or Pokhara) for trash, dirty clothes, sandals or whatever else.
-wet wipes (for the occasions when showering is not an option)
*manang has everything else you’d need if you forgot (or lost) something.