Annapurna Sanctuary Hike

We have gotten super behind on this between being in the Himalaya’s for 10 days with pretty much no internet and being sick, so instead of going into details about what we got up to in Pokhara and Kathmandu, we’re just going to jump forward 2 weeks to our Annapurna Sanctuary Hike. (Pokhara and Kathmandu are really amazing cities though and we would highly recommend the visit!)

Settle in because this is a bit of a long one!

Day 1: Pokhara to Tikhedhunga

We awoke at 6am in our lovely comfy hotel room, had our last nice shower for a while then hopped onto a bus that was going to bring us to our starting point. If we thought our other drives in Nepal were bad, this was on a whole other level! We had an hour and a half on a steep, bumpy and winding road where we were honestly lifting off our seats more often then we were sitting in them. We got dropped off at a little shop on the side of the road, layered on the suncream and started hiking.

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The first day was a relatively easy walk, just 2 hours on a stony road beside a river. The weather was gorgeous, blue skies and really sunny. This was difficult to walk in and we were all sweating buckets after just half an hour. We were happy to make it to our first teahouse in Tikhedhunga.

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The views from this teahouse were amazing. It was set right into the side of the mountain overlooking a massive valley. We could hear birds singing and a waterfall that sounded like it was right below us, but all we could see was a canopy of green trees. It was so peaceful. The accommodation itself was very basic, but a typical teahouse as we would grow to learn.

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That night we had first of many Dhal Bhats for dinner. Throughout the trek we had Dhal Bhat almost everyday for lunch. I think we mentioned this in our last blog post, but Dhal Bhat is the most common dish in Nepal and most of the locals eat this everyday, sometimes twice a day. It consists of rice, papad (poppadom), lentil soup, vegetable curry, a green vegetable of some sort, like spinach or pumpkin leaves and a spicy sauce. We spent the evening playing cards with the group and had an early night to get ready for our first day of proper hiking tomorrow.

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Day 2: Tikhedhunga to Ghorepani

We were up and out at 6.30 am for our first 6 hour hike. It had rained very heavily overnight and before we left we were warned about leeches on our path so we were given some salt packs and told to watch our shoes. In real Irish fashion we rolled our eyes and said, ‘sure we’ll be grand’, but within the first 20 minutes we realised this was not just a precaution. We honestly lost count the amount of leeches we kicked off our boots. They were jumping off the ground and falling off the trees, it was a nightmare!  It rained all day, without a break, and as our guide said, rain = leech. The two salt packs between a group of 9 was not enough so Roisin ended up getting a stick from the ground to flick them off. This ‘leech stick’ came in very useful and ended up staying with us the next 9 days. It features in 95% of our photos. As well as the leeches, we were surrounded by clouds, so we couldn’t see a thing. We may as well of been walking in the Curlew mountains, in fact we would of gotten much better views in the Curlews. If you haven’t guessed by now, day 2 was not our favourite day. We were so relieved to finally arrive in our teahouse for the night in Ghorepani. Thankfully it had hot showers and a stove where we could dry our clothes.

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To top the day 2 off nicely, overnight there was the worst thunder and lightening storm, and as we’ve said, the walls are paper thin so it was like we were standing out in it. It was at this point that Roisin was very close to throwing in the towel, but we agreed to one more day to see how we get on.

Day 3: Ghorepani to Tadapani

Day 3 was planned to start a 3.30 am where we were supposed to climb to the top of Poon Hill for sunrise. However, because of the storm, our guide decided that it would be too dangerous and possibly a waste of time as we might not see anything with the clouds so we should instead conserve our energy for the rest of the day as the weather was promised to be the same as yesterday. We were disappointed to have missed the opportunity to climb Poon Hill as we had heard that it was beautiful, but we trusted our guides decision.

Instead we were woke at 6.00 am and we were delighted to hear that the rain had stopped. When we pulled the curtains we were pleasantly surprised to see that the clouds had lifted and we could see the amazing views in front of the teahouse. We started to feel a little less downbeat about the day of hiking ahead.

It was obviously really wet so there was still a high risk for leeches and the leech stick was used on many occasions, but the sun was starting to dry the open areas so we had some reprieve from time to time. We climbed for about 20 minutes up stony steps before catching our first glimpse of the snow capped mountains in between the trees. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. It was really amazing. We couldn’t stop for too long as we were starting to attract a lot of leeches, but our guide promised us there would be a clearing at the top of the hill. We kept climbing for another 20-30 minutes before getting to a leech free zone. The views were breath taking. We were surrounded by snow capped mountains and green valleys. We spent at least half an hour here taking in the views. This would be one of the best views we would get for a few days, especially if the bad weather returned.

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The rest of the day’s hike was exactly what we had imagined when we booked the trip. We hiked through the forest, over rivers, around cliffs and beside waterfalls. We managed to make it to Tadapani with just a handful of leech attacks and feeling much more optimistic about the rest of the hike ahead. When we arrived at the teahouse it was starting to get cloudy so we didn’t have a great view from the front, however our guide promised us that if it was a clear morning tomorrow we would see a beautiful sunrise. We had a cold shower (you have to pay for hot water in the mountains and we have become massive cheap scates) ate dinner, played some cards and had an early night in preparation for the early sunrise.

Day 4: Tadapani to Chhomrong

We were woken up at 4.45 am for the 5.10 am sunrise. Through the light curtains in our room we could already see the pink and red colours from the sky. When we stepped out of our room the view was incredible. We stood in the yard in the middle of the teahouse and watched in awe as the sun rose over the Annapurna mountain range. The colours in the sky were spectacular. It was definitely worth the early start.

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We ate our breakfast overlooking the mountains and then started our 6 hour hike. We walked for 2 hours downhill right down to the bottom of the valley. Our calves were shaking when we got to the river. We walked across a rope bridge and then had a little bit of ‘Nepalese flat’ before lunch. ‘Nepalese flat’ essentially means, a little bit up, then a little bit down, then some flat. For lunch we refuelled with some more Dhal Bhat and then started our hike uphill towards our teahouse in Chhomrong. We were feeling pretty tired at this stage so we just relaxed and played some more cards for the evening.

Day 5: Chhomrong to Himalaya

We had an early start on day 5 for another beautiful sunrise in Chhomrong. I don’t think we could ever get sick of seeing the snow capped mountains from our bedroom door. We sat with a cup of coffee and watched as the sun rose behind Annapurna South and Machapachare, also known as Fishtail mountain due to the resemblance, and light up the valley.

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After breakfast we started our hike to Himalaya. This was going to be one of the longest days of hiking, 8 hours in total. The first hour was once again all downhill. Our calves were killing us! We kept getting glimpses of the snow capped mountains peaking through the clouds. This never got old, each time was just as amazing as the last.

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At the bottom of this valley we went across another rope bridge and, as we’ve learned, in the Himalaya’s what goes down must go up, and we began our hike up the mountain. So many steps. We honestly thought it would never end. The constant spectacular views made it much easier to keep going, but it was a real struggle.

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When we finally arrived in Himalaya, the entire group was exhausted. At the beginning of the trek we got told that Annapurna Base Camp accommodation had been destroyed in February during heavy snowfall so we would have to stay at Machapuchare base camp and hike the following morning at 3 am to Annapurna base camp for sunrise. We were pretty disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to stay there, but it was something that couldn’t be helped. However, as we all sat, physically and mentally exhausted after our tough 8 hour hike, our guide approached us and told us that 2 days previously they had re-opened a few rooms at Annapurna base camp and they had gotten us two rooms, so we would be able to stay overnight there. This was exactly the news that we needed to motivate us to keep going.

Day 6: Himalaya to Annapurna Base Camp

We awoke full of excitement and anticipation for the day ahead. We were a little bit nervous though as well because we were going to be climbing 1200m in altitude in one day and we didn’t know how our bodies were going to react. We packed our bags and off we set. The first couple of hours was through forestry, and then it started to open up and get a little bit colder. Unsurprisingly it was all uphill. Our legs were definitely feeling it, it was becoming increasingly difficult to put on foot in front of the other. Without sounding like a broken record, the views were just incredible! We were walking along a river, surrounded by cliffs with waterfalls coming down all around us. It was surreal.

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After 6 hours we arrived at Machapuchare base camp for lunch. We were all wrecked. At 3900m above sea level, we were starting to feel the effects of the altitude as well. Our heads were aching, it took us longer than usual to catch our breath and we just wanted to lie down and sleep. We popped some paracetamol, refuelled with Dhal Bhat and continued towards our end goal- A.B.C.

Withing 5 minutes of leaving Machapuchare base camp we were surrounded by clouds, hiking over ice and snow which were the remains of avalanches in February and March. Some of the avalanches were really steep and slippery. At the base was the river and waterfalls so if we slipped it wouldn’t of ended well. Thankfully we made it across without any injuries. We were just glad that we didn’t have to do this at 3 am in the dark. It was like a different world altogether. We could just see a couple of metres ahead of us at any time.

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After an hour we emerged from the clouds and we could finally see A.B.C in the distance, but this last stretch took the most amount of effort. Bernard was short of breath and our heads were killing us. We had to stop very 5 minutes to rest. It was a really weird feeling that is quite hard to describe. After an hour we finally made it to Annapurna base camp at 4130m above sea level. The feeling was exhilarating. We couldn’t believe that we actually made it.

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When we climbed the last few steps up to A.B.C. the damage from the heavy snowfall was still massively apparent. The majority of the buildings still have collapsed roofs and it looks like ruins. The rooms we were staying in were very basic and freezing cold. We walked around the camp, took loads of photos and chilled by a camp fire for the evening.

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Day 7: Annapurna Base Camp to Bamboo

We awoke early the next morning to watch the sunrise over the Annapurna range. As expected, it was spectacular. The clouds had lifted and we could see the entire range of mountains that surrounded us, it was totally breath taking. We stood by the Annapurna glacier and took it all in.

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We had slept in every piece of clothing we had brought with us to try and keep warm, it was bitter! B had a pretty restless sleep and was feeling the altitude. His resting heart rate was 108 and oxygen saturation was 80%, so we were eager to start our descent. After breakfast we started our hike back downhill.

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The hike between A.B.C and M.B.C that took us 2 hours 30 minutes yesterday only took us 40 minutes today when we weren’t fighting against the increase in altitude. Thankfully Bernard started feeling better as soon as we started to descend. We continued to retrace our steps over the avalanches, all the way to Himalaya for lunch. At this stage the massive decrease in altitude started to make Roisin feel really light headed. We still had another 500 metres to descend so we just had to keep going and just take numerous breaks along the way. It’s crazy the different ways that altitude effects different people.

Days 8-10: Bamboo to Pokhara

Thankfully after Bamboo the altitude stopped effecting us, but the hike didn’t get an easier. The last 3 days were a massive struggle physically to be honest. Our bodies were totally exhausted. We had two 6 hour days of hiking, and then the last day was just 2 hours, which felt like nothing. The views continues to be spectacular and we were lucky enough to have little to no rain and no more leech attacks for the rest of the hike.

When we got back to Pokhara we were so happy to have a comfortable bed, a warm shower and food other than Dhal Bhat. The Annapurna Sanctuary hike was the biggest physical and mental challenge that we have ever done, but it was also the most rewarding.

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We took so many photos, here’s a sideshow of some of them.

Róisin & Bernard 

 

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