October 31-November 9, 2015: Conquering the Annapurna Circuit

I’m going to preface this post with a few notes:

  1. The Annapurna Circuit Trek was easily one of the coolest and most challenging things I have ever done (this, apparently, is not the case for Francy… the man has absurdly high standards, I guess).
  2. Selecting the photos to include in this post was just about as hard as the trek itself. As a result, this post has an absurd amount of photos and you’re just going to have to deal with it.
  3. Though we could break up the miles hiked and elevation gained day by day, I’m too lazy to do so and I don’t really think any of you guys are in to that level of detail at the moment. Fret not though, as I will still give a brief overview of the trek (and should you want more detail, don’t hesitate to ask!). With that said…

We (Francy and I and my friend Guy from UCSD, who is currently living in Kathmandu) took the bus from Kathmandu to Besisahar and from there, jeeped it up to Syange, where we spent our first night. From Syange, we began our 10 day hike up and into the Himalayas, guide-less and porter-less.

On our second day of hiking we ran into a group, also hiking guide-less and porter-less, who had all met on the bus on their way to the trek. This amazing group of humans (whom I’ll detail in the photos below) warmly welcomed us into their crew and turned what was already poised to be an amazing trek in to an unforgettable experience of a lifetime. Together with our new friends, we continued our way up the Himalayas, gaining no less than 500 meters (net) a day in altitude, with the ultimate goal of reaching the highest pass in the world – The Thorung La Pass (Elev:  5,416m / ~17,770ft).

Though we attempted to capture the beauty and magnitude of what we saw along the way, the below photos don’t even begin to do the trek justice. You’ll just have to book yourself a ticket to Nepal and come see the Himalayas for yourself 🙂

Total miles hiked:                     ~90 (~145km)
Net elevation gained:            4,316m (~14,160ft)
Total miles transported:          ~125 (~200km)

Side note:  If you’re interested, you can read the below while following our GPS pings (which were pinging every 20 minutes for the entire duration of the trek) on the map! Just zoom into Nepal and then follow the line from Kathmandu northwest to Besisahar to start. If you zoom in enough and click on satellite mode, you’ll even be able to see the actual villages we passed through and stayed in! 

Oct 31:   Bussing + Jeeping from Kathmandu to Syange (Elev:  1,100m / ~3,610ft)

The Nepalis sure are creative when it comes to gassing up a bus…

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Not too shabby a view from our room in Syange…

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Nov 1:   Syange to Tal (Elev:  1,700m / ~5,580ft)

Officially took off on our trek… with our new friend Ralph:

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Already enjoying some incredible views:

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And a lollipop:

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And some terrifying bridges:

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This one wasn’t even that bad… there were way higher and longer ones than this baby…

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We made it to Tal! First day = success.

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And again, not too shabby a view from our room…

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Nov 2:   Tal to Danakyu (Elev:  2,190m / ~7,185ft)

Our adorable guest house in Tal (but really, every single guest house we saw along the trek was this darn cute):

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Leaving Tal, thrilled for his second day of hiking:

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If anything, Nepal sure does excel at signage:

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More incredible views:

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This fun little chart was hanging at the permit check. Yeya, Israel!

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Took a side route through the village of Odar:

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Where Francy partook in some unexpected but welcomed manual labor:

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While Samsonite relaxed and took in the scenery (classic Samsonite):

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Totally what one would expect to see in the middle of an Himalayan trek:

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About 5 minutes after stumbling across the above gem, we ran into our new friends (whom we had previously met at the permit check point that day), who invited us to join them for the evening. We ended up spending the rest of the trek (and then some) with this amazing group. I’ll introduce everyone in the photos that follow.


Nov 3:   Danakyu to Chame (Elev:  2,670m / ~8,760ft)

And off we go, with Francy leading the congo line. In front of me (I’m the one who is incorrectly holding her walking sticks) is Emilia and behind me is Felipe. They are a newlywed couple from Chile! Behind Felipe is Milan, who was born in Yugoslavia (Croatia) and is currently living it up in the south of Spain. Behind Milan is Guy, whom you already know. Taking the picture is Yoav, a fellow Israelite. And missing from the photo is Lauren, Yoav’s girlfriend, who grew up in Connecticut but has been living in Israel for the past few years. And here’s a fun fact for the day – Lauren and Yoav met on Birthright!! Jewish mothers worldwide (as in, the three I know that actually read this blog) will be proud.

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Together, the 8 of us braved the treacherous waters of the Marshyangdi river:

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And crossed more bridges:

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And saw more incredible views:

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Finally arrived in Chame to reward ourselves with… VAG omelets? Yum?

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And this photo was hanging in our guest house. There’s some pretty Freudian shit going on around here, if you ask me…

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Nov 4:   Chame to Upper Pisang (Elev:  3,300m / ~10,825ft)

Off we go!

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The whole clan. From left to right:  Francy and myself (Tamar…), Milan (the Yugoslavian Spaniard, or Spanish Yugoslavian…), Emilia and Felipe (the Chilean newlyweds), Yoav and Lauren (the Israeli/Connecticut Birthrighters), and Guy (my UCSD homie).

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Ze ladies:

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Samsonite making an appearance:

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Finally made it to Upper Pisang, where we had an awesome view of Lower Pisang, the valley and the mountains:

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Daily group stretch on the rooftop. Francy looks thrilled.

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Yoav and Lauren showing off their AcroYoga skills with the coolest backdrop of all time:

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Nov 5:   Upper Pisang to Manang (Elev:  3,540m / ~11,615ft)

Took off for our longest day yet (did about 15mi / 25km that day). Sadly, Lauren wasn’t feeling too hot and she and Yoav parted ways with the group early on, with hopes of reuniting later in the day or the next day in Manang. As WiFi isn’t exactly reliable in the Himalayas (and same goes for cell reception, if we even had any in the first place), we were scared we wouldn’t see them again!

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So we said some prayers and spun some prayer wheels (photo credit goes to Yoav on this amazing photo):

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Took a slight detour to the village up there that supposedly offers some of the most amazing views on the trek. It also demanded a 350 meter (1150ft) climb… Samsonite was not looking forward to this.

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But the climb was beyond worth it:

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Photo credit goes to Emilia on this one. This picture was just so spectacular, I had to steal it and include it in the blog:

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And on we continued:

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Photo credit to Felipe on this one:

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Adorable trail marker:

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About 7 hours into trekking… Are we there yet?!?

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The village of Braga… we’re close!!

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And just after we leave Braga (about 20 minutes away from Manang), we hear a shout from behind…

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The prodigal couple returns!! But seriously… what amazing timing. And speaking of good timing, Emilia and Felipe stayed behind for a bit and said they’ll catch us in Manang. When we got to Manang, it started snowing pretty heavily. We found a guest house, changed into warm clothes, and I went to sit by the café window so I could catch Emilia & Felipe coming into town and let them know where we were staying. AS I sat down, Emilia walked on by (apparently Felipe had just passed). Five seconds later and I totally would have missed them both, and no way would they have been able to find us (at least not that evening, in the snow). The point of this absurdly long paragraph is that… to put it cornily… this group was just meant to be! (Ugh, gross, I know)


Nov 6:   Acclimatization day in Manang

As most trekkers do (and as is recommended), we stayed in Manang for a day to rest and acclimatize. Samsonite started the day off with a cappuccino and some DELICIOUS pastries:

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Meanwhile, this little joyous plant was growing just in front of our guest house:

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Taking off for a little hike up to the Chongkor viewpoint. Woohoo, no backpacks!

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Not too shabby a view…

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Champ:

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Mandatory group selfie:

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This is just rad:

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Milan, Francy and I trying hard not to slip on our asses, like some others did… (*cough* Lauren)

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Making our way back down:

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Went to see Seven Years in Tibet at one of Manang’s “cinemas”. It was some chick’s freezing cold basement, but the projector was awesome and she made us tea and popcorn!

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Picture quality isn’t great, but you get the idea:

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Nov 7:   Manang to Ledar (Elev:  4,200m / ~13,780ft)

Back to the grind:

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Snack time. We are likely high-fiving over how delicious the cinnamon rolls are, which we geniusly bought back in Manang, foreseeing this exact happening:

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The old “me taking a picture of you taking a picture of me” trick:

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That’s one way to heat up a kettle:

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Made it to Ledar, where we also had to suffer these unfortunate views:

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And I’ll leave you with our daily group stretch. Highlight of this post, I know. You’re welcome:

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Nov 8:   Ledar to Thorung High Camp (Elev:   4,925m / ~16,160ft)

As we heard High Camp (closest lodging to the pass) fills up super early each day, we took off from Ledar at the crack of dawn. The sun is just barely hitting the mountain tops:

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If you’re wondering if we’re cold, the answer is yes. We’re f*#@ing freezing.

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But these views are just unreal:

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Made it to Thorung Phedi, just an hour more (500m straight uphill) to High Camp.

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This photo is the perfect depiction of how we were all feeling:

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This less:

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Ascending:

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We made it! Well, actually, Emilia and I had about 30 more meters to go, but we refused to move until someone told us exactly where our rooms were (so that we wouldn’t have to do any “unnecessary walking”… because that makes sense…):

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I’ll leave you with these two photos from High Camp, brilliantly captured by Felipe on the GoPro:

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Nov 9:   The Pass (Elev:  5,416m / ~17,770ft)

Took off from High Camp at 5:30am (it was still dark and FREEZING out), which allowed for some cool shots of the sun coming up behind the mountains:

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Bringing the braided beanie + camo neck warmer + headlamp look into style:

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Up, up and up we go. Keep in mind that at this point, we are climbing at over 5,000m (~16,500ft). They say that on Everest, every step feels like running a mile. Well, this wasn’t quite that drastic, but the oxygen level up there was 50% that of sea level, so for us sea level folks (as in, everyone in our group), each step was pretty much twice as hard as it would normally be. And let’s not forget that it was -16ºC (practically 0ºF) out.

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The sun finally hitting the tops of the mountains, bringing with it the prospects of warmth and comfort (which were never met):

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Almost there (though we didn’t know it at the time)! The pass is just around the bend…

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FINALLY!!!!!!

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I’m not gonna lie, this was very emotional for me. I may or may not have shed a tear or two…

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Yup. 17,700ft… NBD.

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Everyone filing on in:

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Emilia & Felipe – This is one of my favorite photos in the entire post (photo credit goes to Francy on this one):

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Mandatory “Highest Pass in the World” photo op:

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Good job, Samsonite! Though, let’s be real… yours truly carried his lazy ass the whole way up.

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The gang!! I should note that Lauren and Yoav made it to the pass 30 minutes before the rest of us and it was too cold to wait, so they weren’t actually in this photo… but with the power of technology and Francy’s superb photoshopping skills, voila! It’s just like you guys were right there with us!

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After celebrating at the pass (with Snickers, not booze, unfortunately…) for a solid and freezing 20 minutes, we took off for a 4 hour, 1,700m (~5,600ft) descent to Muktinath, where cold beers (and hopefully Lauren and Yoav) were waiting for us!

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That look is the purest form of excitement when one learns that they are only 30 minutes away from completing their 10 day trek!

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Aha! Success!

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We got to enjoy the last bit of our trek with a fantastic view of Annapurna I (at 8,091m / 26,545ft, she ranks as the 10th highest mountain in the world), towering over the “bustling” town of Muktinath!

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Where we properly celebrated!

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Thank you all for an amazing trek. Cheers!

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