Annapurna Circuit in Nepal Is That Once-In-A-Lifetime Journey
Foreign culture–think extremely foreign, high mountains–high as a mortal such as myself will every get, extreme poverty–poorest place I ever saw, different kind of people–Sherpas are toughest humans on this planet, and danger–High Altitude Mountain sickness and hypothermia. The Annapurna Circuit offers a hint of an expedition-style journey for an average person such as myself.
The Himalayas are easily the world’s most daunting mountain chain; ten of the world’s sixteen highest peaks lie in Nepal, which is a tiny sliver of real estate between the two colossi, India and China. I never thought I’d see a place as poor as India. But Nepal does the trick. In each case there is a valid explanation for such endemic poverty. India simply has too many people to not have lots of poor people. As far as Nepal goes, consider the case of West Virginia. The ‘Mountaineer State’ I may be the poorest part of America, but with the most pleasant people. Nepal is West Virginia on steroids. Despite having a GDP of less than $500 per capita annually, I never once felt like anybody was going to try to rob me like they might, say, on the streets of Chicago.
In Thamel, which many of you might remember from Jon Krakauer’s narrative, Into Thin Air, climbers and trekkers abound, preparing for their journeys ahead into the mountains. I stayed at the Kathmandu Guest House, which my guidebook described as like a “clearinghouse for all trekkers and climbers.”
The most important thing about the Annapurna Circuit, which is a three-week trek to 17, 768 feet, is that it is designed so that an average person (such as myself) can venture way up into the mountains without seriously endangering their lives or having to undertake technical climbing. “This is a well-designed circuit,” many of my fellow trekkers (from all over the world, but heavily populated by Europeans) frequently noted. Often we would see big monoliths straight ahead and wonder how in the world we would make it through there. But we would soon see the circuit winding its way at gentle grades through mountain passes to ever-higher elevations.
I will say that on the day trekkers summit Thorung La Pass (17,768 feet), the trek does take on a bit different character. Trekkers wake up in the night, affix their headlamps, and beginning a more steeply graded climb (40 to 50 degrees) of 3,200 feet, before descending 5,300 feet. This is the day you have been hearing about since planning your trip to Nepal. But unlike most normal trips, this is a journey with a brilliant crescendo. I recommend it for anyone with an inclination to see that part of the world.
Bill Walker is the author of ‘Getting High–The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal’. He is also the author of ‘Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail’, ‘Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail’, and ‘The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago’.