Thursday, June 2, 2011

Guide to the Annapurna Circuit Trek: Part Five

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

Day 9: Letdar to High Camp

For places to stay on the night before trekking over the Thorung La Pass, there are two options: Thorung Pedi and High Camp. Unlike other villages along the route, High Camp has only one accommodation. In fact, High Camp consists almost entirely of this one accommodation, but it seems quite large and can accommodate trekkers by the dozens during high season. We opted to stay in High Camp because "Pass day" is a long, draining day as it is, and we liked the thought of being able to begin it already a leg up on Thorung Pedi. That is, if we could make it from our origin in Letdar to Thorung Pedi at all...

The trail from Letdar to Thorung Pedi is a manageable climb on a path that hugs the steep sides of a river valley. Here we were warned of the danger of rock slides by posted signs, which we almost missed due to the view grabbing much of our attention.

Day 9: Letdar to High Camp

Good thing we took a moment to watch our surroundings. As we decended down the steep hillside to a bridge crossing, we encountered our scariest moment of the trek:

Day 9: Letdar to High Camp (that hillside is actually the trail, which was only about 6 inches wide for this short but scary stretch)

It is hard to see from this photo, but the trail narrowed and at one point had been basically washed away by a runoff stream that had frozen since into a patch of ice creating a Double Dare-esque obstacle course for the novice trekker. What you can't see is the rushing river below, also known as your final resting place if you are unfortunate enough to slip on said ice patch and tumble into its hypothermia-inducing waters.

Relieved, we made it to the other side, trembling knees and all. Below you can see the switchback trail with washed out icy section as seen from the safety of the opposite riverbank. You cannot see the rushing river. It appears now exclusively in my nightmares.

Day 9: Letdar to High Camp (view of nearly impassable trail from the other side)

After conquering the river crossing, we finished the walk to Thorung Pedi, taking a bit less than two hours to complete the stretch as we surrendered to the views along the way.

Day 9: Letdar to High Camp

The distance from Thorung Pedi to High Camp is really not very far as the bird flies. Alas, we are not birds and would have to take on the steep, switchback trail grunting on our feet. Forty-five minutes later, we topped the steep climb and arrived at High Camp. We were very glad to have that demanding portion of the trail behind us rather than having to endure it in the cold cover of darkness the next morning as the start of our trek over the Pass.

Our teahouse at High Camp (4925 meters)
High Camp!

As I mentioned, there really is not much to do at High Camp, but fortunately it is surrounded by great views.

Day 9: Letdar to High Camp

Glacier above High Camp

It was during the afternoon spent at High Camp that we felt our only effects of the altitude during the trek. We both felt quite sluggish, and my stomach felt just upset enough to really curb my appetite. Neither of us felt side effects extreme enough to descend, and after some rest and popping Diamox (aka acetazolamide) we had brought for just such an occasion, we were feeling much better.

Day 10: High Camp to Kagbeni

A note here on our destination for the day: For various reasons (explained in tomorrow's post) we decided to go much beyond the traditional stopping point on "Pass day." Most trekkers end their day in Muktinath.

Trekkers depart early on the day they cross the Pass to beat winds that begin really whipping at the lofty Thorung La around 8 AM. We left High Camp at 5 AM under the cover of dark and, disconcertingly, cover of cloud that had settled on High Camp the night before, rendering our surroundings a thick, gauzy, grey serving of pea soup fog. The teahouse proprietor assured us that the cloud cover was normal and would lift in about an hour. We are so glad that he was right.

As we waited for the sun to rise, we began the ascent toward the Pass. With the fog and frost (not much snow cover at this point in May), the landscape felt eerie and surreal.

Day 10: Crossing the Thorung Pass

In perfect harmony, the sun rose as the clouds lifted.

Day 10: Crossing the Thorung Pass

This day's final ascent is steep, and I really started to feel the altitude and corresponding decrease in oxygen in the air as they impacted my effort. The landscape was hushed but for my heavy breathing and the slow plodding of my feet moving one step at a time. The effort was by no means excruciating, but I consider this the most physically demanding couple of hours of the trek. The scenery, however, was well worth the effort and, in my opinion, was the best of the trip.

Day 10: Crossing the Thorung Pass

Day 10: Climbing to the Thorung Pass

Day 10: Climbing to the Thorung Pass

Day 10: Climbing to the Thorung Pass

At the top of the Thorung Pass (5416 meters)!

Finally, after carrying the giddy anticipation of not just hours but days, we reached the Pass at 17,769 feet (5,416 meters).

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Ain't no mountain high enough.

Continue Reading: Part Six, Part Seven, and Tips of the Trail.

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