Where there’s risk, there’s adventure. Will the experience be as good as you’d hoped? Will your body get you to the finish line? Will your spirit crumble under the pressure? Will Mother Nature decide it’s not your lucky day? Or, will you triumph in the face of these challenges, discover what you’re made of and enjoy the experience of a lifetime?
If you choose to tackle the world-renowned trek to Annapurna Base Camp, you’ll undoubtedly ask yourself these questions along the way…especially in light of the recent earthquakes. Having thrown caution to the wind and hiked our way to the Himalayan heavens, we’d like to share our brutal and unforgettably brilliant experience of the Annapurna Track.
Firstly here’s Ben’s reasons why and how:
I’ve trekked five of Africa’s highest peaks and run up some of Australia’s but nothing I’d done to date could prepare me for the sheer scale and enormity of the Himalayas.
Before setting out on our Best Life in the World adventure I had my heart set on completing the Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek, but the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25th firmly shut the door on that idea, with access for trekking and climbing stopped for the year before it had really begun.
I’d be drawn to the idea of EBC to test myself at an elevation of over 5,000 metres. One of the highest non-technical treks in the world where the air is thin, but where anyone with a average fitness level who takes it slowly can reach the destination – base camp – with potentially epic views of the world’s highest mountain.
Sophee had always told me she was up for the idea. I know my girl’s grit level is huge having watched her complete the Singapore Marina 21km a few months go after ZERO training. We walked 81km one Friday night from Brisbane to the Gold Coast when we first met, just because she’d “always wanted to”. Throw up any sort of challenge and she’s up for it.
With EBC no longer available I was desperate to find another trek where we’d get to immerse ourselves in the world’s highest mountain range and spoke to the team at Inter-Tours Nepal for advice. The Annapurna Range offers two legendary routes; the 21-day Annapurna Circuit or the shorter 12-day Annapurna Base Camp trek (ABC), climbing to 4,130 metres. With the Indian monsoon fast approaching we needed to get out of Nepal as quickly as possible and opted to head for ABC.
I could go into poetic superlatives about the majesty of the mountains, the taste of the sweat dripping from my brow on the brutal climbs or the thundering power of distant avalanches echoing around us at sunset from the comfort of basecamp.
Instead I’ve decided to let my film work do the talking, with a hastily edited video shot with a GoPro Hero 4 Black and a Nikon D7100. If only the Nepal Customs team at Kathmandu Airport had released my DJI Phantom 2+ Vision in time I’d have produced something extraordinary! Enjoy…
Here’s Sophee’s view of her epic adventure:
MEET THE TEAM
Here’s the thing. I’m the kind of girl who’d rather watch movies from the comfort of a plush hotel bed than climb mountains. But, every now and then, spontaneity grabs hold of me and I leap into something stupidly epic…without training…or any knowledge of what I’m getting into. So, it’s hardly surprising that, while holidaying in Nepal, I eventually found myself signing up for the infamously gruelling Annapurna Base Camp Trek. Never mind the fact there was a strong possibility of earthquake aftershocks, landslides and avalanches.
Even more absurd was my choice of sidekicks – two freakishly fit men who’d run the entire track if I wasn’t slowing them down. My guide, Raju, had muscles on his muscles and looked like a pocked-sized Nepalese Rambo. If it were physically possible, I’d say he had 0% body fat. Then there was my husband, Ben, who’d sprinted his way along the nine Great Walks of New Zealand (545km) in nine days, setting a world record. Talk about pressure! At least I was in good hands, right?
So, what had I signed up for exactly? The 21-Day Annapurna Circuit was too “next level intense” for me so I opted for the 12-Day Annapurna Sanctuary Trek to Base Camp. It’d see me reach a maximum altitude of 4130m (almost twice the height of our tallest mountain back home in Oz) and cover a distance of at least 110km. It was going to be a tough slog.
Bright eyed and bushy tailed, our team of three left the land of luxury and kicked off our adventure with a gentle canoe ride across Begnas Lake. It was nice to ease into things. We could see the Annapurna Mountains in the distance and they looked like an enchanted snow-capped land from a fairy tale – and so very far away.
As the blistering heat of the day settled in, it was time to take our first steps along the track in Pokhara. After 15-minutes of razor sharp incline, I turned around to my husband and said, “What the hell am I doing? I don’t think I can do this.” Already, I was a blotchy monster with chipolata fingers, a wheeze like a severe asthmatic and sweat in places I never thought possible (elbows – WTF?!). After chugging down some water and taking a moment to breathe, I decided I could survive 12 days of trekking; I just needed to take things one step at a time – nice and slow.
By the middle of the first day, I’d become accustomed to the assault on my muscles, shoulders and heart rate. I’d learnt to zone out, let my thoughts wander away from the pain, and focus on the beauty before me. Before long, our crew had settled into a perfect routine – we continued as though on autopilot: wake at dawn, feast on porridge, slog it out until lunchtime, enjoy a carb fest, wash sweaty clothes, chill out for the afternoon, tuck into more carbs, sleep and repeat.
But don’t let our daily “humdrum” fool you. Throughout the journey, my husband and I encountered some of the most beautiful sights we’d ever witnessed. The trek was nothing short of an epic adventure. We explored bustling lowland villages, scurried under cascading waterfalls, chilled out on terraced farmlands, dodged feisty leeches in the rain, trudged through lush rhododendron forests, rattled over mighty suspension bridges, tip-toed across icy rivers, stood still in breath-taking mountain vistas and laughed our way up the snow-lined path to Annapurna Base Camp.
Getting to the finish line was like reaching nirvana. At Annapurna Base Camp, you really feel as though you’re in the land of the Gods. Surrounded by wild purple flowers, the Guest House sits at the bottom of gigantic glacial basin like a cosy village inside a snow globe. The Annapurna Mountains, reaching up to 8091m, are all encompassing. There’s nowhere to look but up. As the sun falls and the stars take its place, you’re left in awe of nature and your teeny-tiny part in it. Yep, the hard yakka was all worth it.
THE SETUP & SAFETY
The trek to Annapurna Base Camp wasn’t just a physical challenge and an opportunity to get close to nature, it also became a unique cultural experience. As we travelled from village to village, Ben and I got a taste of rural Nepalese life. After a long, tough day on the track, we loved sitting back and taking it all in: women drying spices on their roofs, men toiling over the land and keeping cattle in check, grandparents minding smiley babies, young lads unleashing their testosterone over a game of volleyball, horses carting stones along cobblestone paths, mega bees maintaining beds of technicolour roses, community dogs hunting out affection…there was enough to keep us entertained for hours.
As we retreated to our Guest House at the end of each day, we were pleasantly surprised by how kitted out they were. While most didn’t offer the luxury of a TV, but many had free Wi-Fi and solar-heated showers – bliss. They also provided uber thick blankets, mouth-watering meals often made with fresh produce from the local farms, cold beer and hot chocolate. What more could we want?
Luckily, villages were rarely more than two hours apart, which meant tea breaks were always on the horizon – a saviour waiting in the near distance. Linking the villages was a beautifully engineered pathway made of iridescent stones. They sparkled like metallic fish scales, making the journey all the more magical.
Towards the end of the trek, the path became a little more challenging. We had to race across a few frozen waterfalls and rocky boulders, where there’d been an avalanche or landslide. Thanks to our savvy guide, we learnt to forget about taking photos in these instances and move quickly along. At one point, my boots lost their grip and I started sliding down the icy mountainside. Raju pounced towards me quicker than a Nepalese snow leopard, caught my hand and pulled me to safety. Thank God for Raju!
In light of the recent earthquakes, Ben and I were glad we’d opted for a guided tour of the Annapurna Track. Our mountain guru knew the area like the back of his hand and could help us navigate the riskier parts in the safest way possible. He also monitored the weather to ensure we didn’t hike straight into dangerous territory. The Annapurna mountains are an ever-moving beast, and Raju always had a contingency plan up his sleeve for changing conditions.
If you’re thinking of tackling the Base Camp, we highly recommend having a guide. The experience, albeit gruelling in parts, felt safe for us and we came out the other side having had the time of our lives. While we encountered a few hikers going it alone, we didn’t think it was worth the risk.
The Annapurna Sanctuary Trek was every bit the adventure we’d imagined it would be…and then some. It course was physically demanding, visually thrilling and emotionally all over the place. Despite the highs and lows, we were darn proud of ourselves for getting to the finish line. We hope one day you’ll make the journey too. You won’t regret it.
To book your Annapurna Adventure, contact Intertours Nepal: www.intertours-nepal.com