Sidmouth woman’s trek on the Annapurna Circuit

This had to be my ultimate challenge, a trek of approximately 190 miles around the Annapurna Massif in Nepal including the pass at Thorung La, the highest point of the trek at 5,414m.

I was invited by my friend Jill to join her on this trek. I accepted her offer as, since meeting, Jill and I have gained knowledge in mountaineering skills and I have done several treks on Dartmoor and the Brecon Beacons with her.

We flew to Kathmandu and were taken by bus to begin our trek, which followed the Marshyangdi River all the way to Thorung Phedi just below the pass.

We stayed in ‘tea houses’ which were comfortable but basic hostels providing a remarkable range of meals, usually cooked on a wood fire. We passed through villages with terraced fields heavily cultivated with rice and corn at lower levels and changing to millet and barley as we gained altitude. Mule trains are used to transport all forms of goods to the villages and we passed several with varying items including bottled gas and furniture.

Along the route through many villages you can see women and children washing clothes by the riverside. We also passed several places where women were breaking large slabs of stone to make mortar and then transferring them in large baskets to where the menfolk were building wells. There were many suspension bridges crossing the river, which at times was wide and rapidly flowing over large boulders. Some of the bridges were extremely precarious, swinging as we crossed.

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Some of the sides were open which I found intimidating and I needed assistance from the guide.

On our way the scenery was breathtaking, taking us from lush vegetated valleys with bananas and oranges up to the high arid country to the north.

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As we walked we were surrounded on all sides by major Himalayan peaks covered in snow, including the Annapurna summits at over 8,000m, Manaslu and Nilgiri. After the pass, our route led down into the Keligandaki valley, the deepest gorge in the world, as we passed through a myriad cross section of the culture of Nepal.

Some of the paths were extremely narrow and precipitous, which I hadn’t expected. The guide and the rest of the group were very supportive in helping me along these paths which usually had the river flowing rapidly below. At these times I felt vulnerable, afraid that I would trip and fall over the edge. I knew it was irrational and had to look straight ahead and not down into the gorge.

People in this part of the world follow the Hindu and Buddist religions so we had some opportunities to visit temples and a monastery including the pilgrimage site at Mukineth. Here, several pilgrims could be seen carrying out ritual ablutions and ceremonies. Most villages had a series of prayer wheels set in a long wall which were turned by passersby to send their prayers to heaven. This I did at all opportunities, as I wanted to get over the pass!

We had a rest day two days before the summit to help us with acclimatisation. After breakfast we walked to the Gangapurna glacier, passing a beautiful emerald lake. The path was very steep and narrow and extremely steep in places and I needed help from the guide, but great views at the top. The paths were ascending gradually but it was hard work due to the increase in altitude. Contouring around the hillside, the paths were becoming extremely narrow. In this area large flocks of blue sheep can be seen.

The night before the Thorung La pass, the guides advised me to go to the summit on a mule, due to the narrowness and ice which could be on the path.

As I had never been on any four legged animal I was a bit apprehensive. However, on the morning of the ascent , my mule, ‘Lucky’, arrived. I was very tense and nervous mounting, however, after the first few minutes, I was OK-ish but the movement of the mule and the narrowness of the path didn’t allow me to relax and enjoy the ride!

We all made the pass without incident, and I met up with the rest of the group and we had our photos taken. There was even a caf� at the top selling cups of tea! We didn’t linger at the pass as it was very cold and windy. The descent was very steep and it took about four hours to reach the next tea house.

After trekking for a few more days we arrived at a village called Ghorapani. The following morning at 5am we climbed to the top of Poon Hill at 3,190m to see the sunrise and panoramic view of the mountains. It was absolutely breathtaking and worth getting up for. We set off after breakfast, continuing our descent. It was a long descent on stone steps, it is recorded as being 3,767 steps but we were too busy concentrating to count them.

Our final day was spent in Kathmandu where we had a half day tour of the city with its many temples and palaces.

We did some retail therapy buying scarves and hats to take home to our families and friends.

It was sad to say goodbye to our guides and porters who had helped us accomplish the circuit and have such a wonderful experience.

The Nepalese people were all extremely helpful, cheerful and hardworking, despite having little compared with the west and this contributed greatly to our enjoyment.

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