In November after our 20-day trek in the Khumbu/Everest region, we headed to the town of Pokhara to embark on yet another trek in the Himalaya — this time a short but strenuous 7-day trek to Annapurna Base Camp, also referred to as the ABC Trek or Annapurna Sanctuary Trek. At 8091m / 26545 ft., Annapurna is the tenth highest mountain in the world. The trek to its south base camp ascends the long and jungly Modi Khola gorge, finally reaching a high basin ringed by soaring peaks including, of course, Annapurna itself.
Annapurna Base Camp, Himalaya, Nepal - November 2014
Pokhara is the gateway city to the Annapurna Himal. Though Pokhara is only about 200 km (124 miles) from Kathmandu, the bus ride takes 7 hours! This is because there are no highways, and the bumpy potholed road winds through mountainous foothill terrain the whole way.
The city of Pokhara is situated next to Phewa Tal, a lake with awe-inspiring views of the pyramid summit of Machhapuchhre (aka Fish Tail Peak) rising in the distance. That is, on the rare occasions when you can see through the haze and smog.
After a terrifying taxi ride from Pokhara, our speed-demon driver dropped us off at the village of Phedi, where we promptly started ascending a steep stone staircase. These stone staircases would be a defining characteristic of this trek — constantly ascending or descending these never-ending staircases!
Though this trek is much shorter than the Khumbu trek we did, we both agreed that it was much more strenuous, with all the ups and downs and longer hiking days. (With lower elevations here, altitude acclimatization is not such a concern so it’s possible to hike farther each day).
We opted to go solo on this trek and did not hire a porter or guide. Our backpacks were lighter since we didn’t have to pack as much cold weather clothing, and also from our experience from the previous trek we knew exactly what we needed to bring with us (or more importantly, what we didn’t need to bring).
Machhapuchhre (also known as Fish Tail Peak) is one of the most beautiful mountains in the Himalaya (or the world, for that matter). Like a Himalayan Matterhorn, this peak has a striking pyramidal profile. Quoting Wikipedia: “Machhapuchchhre has never been climbed to its summit. The only attempt was in 1957 by a British team led by Jimmy Roberts. Climbers Wilfrid Noyce and A. D. M. Cox climbed to within 150 m (492 ft) of the summit via the north ridge; to an approximate altitude of 22,793 ft., but did not complete the ascent; they had promised not to set foot on the actual summit. Since then, the mountain has been declared sacred, and it is now closed to climbers.”
The first portion of our trek involved crossing over a broad mountain ridge, from Phedi through the villages of Dhampus, Pothana, Bhickok Deurali (above), and Tolka. This route provides stunning views of Machhapuchhre and Annapurna South, before descending into the long jungly valley of the Modi Khola.
Massive vertical relief is one of the defining characteristics of the Annapurna Himal, perhaps even more dramatic than in the Khumbu region. In the photo above, the summit of Annapurna South is nearly 6,000 meters or 20,000 vertical feet higher than the valley below!
After days of trudging up and down endless stone staircases through the jungle, it was a relief to finally emerge above the treeline above the lodges of “Himalaya”, knowing that we were now amongst the big peaks and within reach of Annapurna Base Camp.
Early in the morning the entire population of Annapurna Base Camp woke up and went out to watch the sunrise, like a ceremony of fellow mountain worshippers!
After spending one spectacular evening and morning at Annapurna Base Camp, we headed back down the way we came.
There’s no better way to wrap up a trek than to spend the last evening soaking in hot springs!