Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Guide to the Annapurna Circuit Trek: Part Three

For previous installments of this Annapurna Circuit trekking guide, see Part One and Part Two.

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

We woke up early in Chame to get a head start on all of the other trekkers staying there that night because Chame is a popular sleeping point on the trail. It's not that we do not enjoy meeting other trekkers -- in fact, one of the great joys of the trail was meeting people from all over the world as we made our way along the route, especially when we had evening hours to pass fireside in chilly teahouses. We talked to people from Australia, the Netherlands, Canada (eh!), India, Kenya, the UK, Nepal, Ireland, Czech Republic, Spain, South Korea, Argentina, Germany, Japan, Hungary, Israel, France, Malaysia, and, of course, the US. The trail was like an outdoorsy UN summit or an athletic Epcot Center of nationalities.

When walking on the trail, though, Claudine and I found we preferred a bit of solitude to playing cat and mouse with other groups. We felt fortunate to be trekking in mid-May at nearly an "off-season" time, so the crowds were very thin (and still we met people from all of those countries!). Many nights we were the only people staying in our teahouse, and some nights we were the only people staying in our particular town. From what we have heard of high season, however, such isolation and privacy are rare. During the busiest months on the trail (March, April, and -- the busiest by far -- October) we have heard that certainly teahouses and even entire towns get booked up by late afternoon. Thus, early risers may be rewarded with first pick of evening lodgings. They are also rewarded with the clearest views, as morning tends to be when the sun and mountains are out in full glory before any potential afternoon clouds roll in. It turns out our excitement awoke us before our masochistic 5 AM alarm, but any morning groans were worth it for what we saw along this stretch of the trail as we departed Chame at 6 AM.

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

Fellow night owls take note: the sunrise over the trees and mountains was enough to convert me into a grateful early bird, stat. But it was nice to stop for a caffeine fix and a stationary view in Bhratang about an hour and a half after departing Chame.

Continuing on, we turned a corner and confronted a massive, sheer, glacier-scraped rock face.

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang


We also saw a helipad not unlike many we would see during the rest of the trek. If I needed a reminder to watch my step and avoid a clumsy accident that might necessitate medical evacuation, this was it.

Helipad


There was no shortage of great views as we made our way to our day's stopping point.

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

We had a bit of confusion about our stopping destination for the night, so we will do our best to set things straight for any future trekkers reading along. At this point in the trek, the trail splits into two route options that eventually meet back up at the end of one day's hike: the Lower Pisang route and the Upper Pisang Route. We knew that the next day we wanted to trek the Upper Pisang Route (more on that and our decision tomorrow). We weren't quite sure, then, whether to stay in the town of Upper Pisang or the town of Lower Pisang, also known as Pisang in some guides (confused yet?). The answer is that you can choose to stay in either Upper or Lower Pisang no matter which route you plan to follow in the morning. As you follow the trek, you will arrive first in Lower Pisang and walk through it. It feels a bit more newly developed than Upper Pisang, which you can see just across the river from Lower Pisang and a steep walk uphill.

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang
A view of Upper Pisang (foreground) from Lower Pisang

The trail splits when you come to the end of Lower Pisang. At that point you can stay on that side of the river and continue on the Lower Pisang route or you can cross the river and begin following it on the opposite side as you embark on the Upper Pisang route (this is also where you cross the river to then walk uphill to the town of Upper Pisang if you wish to stay there or see the view from its monastery).

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang
The bridge at the end of Lower Pisang. Cross and continue straight to ascend to the town of Upper Pisang or cross and hang a left to follow the Upper Pisang route.

That means if you stay in the town of Lower Pisang, you will walk to this point at the end of town in the morning and make your decision on which route to follow (it's fairly well-marked by signs and a map. If you stay in the town of Upper Pisang, you have already crossed the river at the end of Lower Pisang and walked uphill. Your morning will consist of walking back downhill to that bridge and continuing on the route of your choice.

Upper Pisang offers great views, but we were pretty happy with what surrounded us in Lower Pisang and did not feel the need to add extra hill work to our afternoon (or descending hill work to our next morning). Plus, we were enticed by this teahouse in Lower Pisang that looked brand spanking new.

Brand spanking new teahouse in Lower Pisang

The Tilicho Hotel did not disappoint. As a fierce wind whipped through Lower Pisang, we staked out a table in the dining area cheerily lit by skylights above and feasted on sweeping views of the valley. We spent a number of happy hours here reading and meeting interesting trekkers like the friendly fellow Americans taking the long way home after spending a number of years teaching in South Korea. We would lose them the next morning only to be reunited through chance run-ins at the end of our trek in Pokhara and even again in our own neighborhood in Kathmandu. We didn't speak much to the young German guys who holed up in their room for most of the day. We forgave their anti-social behavior when we discovered that one was suffering from an unpleasant bout of food poisoning. Thankful for good luck and strong stomachs, we rested and prepared for the next day's Upper Pisang route, which we had heard would be one of the most difficult but gorgeous days of our trek.

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