For the Trekking 'Virgins': How to Prepare for the Annapurna Base Camp Trek

10:10:00 PM


“Waking up with the view of the snowcapped Himalayas was good. But seeing it closer while squatting on the toilet to poop was the best.”

I can’t remember how many times I told my friends that it’s one of the best experiences I had in Nepal. Seriously. Where else can I get such a view on my birthday while literally connecting with mother nature? It was 5.30am and it was still dark from this side of the mountain. I had to go to the bathroom with a headlamp for my morning routine. The shared bath had a large open window that annoyed me at first. I was like, why in the hell would a toilet in a cold mountain have such a large window? I went in anyway. The sun started to show up in just a few seconds and I then I saw the Himalayas against the clear blue sky unfolding right in front of me! I can’t believe what I saw. I was teary-eyed. Who wouldn’t love that on their birthday?

Twenty-five years young and a trekking virgin.

I’d sing one’s own praises here - I’ve never trekked before but I survived this piece of the Himalayas! Seven days in a cold mountain is no funny story and walking for 6-8 hours a day in many up and down trails can knock you out. It can be inconvenient. Water should be filtered and treated before you can drink it. The cost of food increases and teahouses can be crowded as you go high up the mountain. Once in your life, you’d ask why you allowed yourself to be in an awkward and tiring situation when you can just stay and enjoy comfort at home. I did, many times in the mountain. And if I didn’t go, I probably would have not known the answer. Until now, I’m still wondering how the Himalayan mountains made me not worry about these inconveniences.

Throwback to Where It All Started

We were on our way to Vang Vieng, Laos when we met a Japanese backpacker from New York City. When asked what’s his favorite place in Asia so far, he did not hesitate and said it’s Nepal in a heartbeat. He said that it’s the cheapest yet the most beautiful of all! I couldn't remember if went to trek there. But by the way he described the country, it must be very beautiful! We also started to see many inspiring photos of trekking expeditions in Nepal after that trip. We read blogs and watched a number of documentaries about the country. We’ve also seen excerpts from the BBC Himalaya series showing Michael Palin ascending through the Annapurna Sanctuary to Annapurna Base camp. After seeing all of these, I was sold! I knew, I have to be there!

Day 6 of the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek
Day 6 of the Annapurna Base Camp Trek

The Distinction Between Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), Annapurna Circuit (AC) and Everest Base Camp (EBC)

What we did was the Annapurna Base Camp trek. They also call it Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) Trek or Teahouse trek. It’s one of the most popular treks in the Annapurna region. You can complete it in 6-10 days and its highest point is the Annapurna Base Camp at 4,130m. Many trekkers choose ABC to see the majestic peaks of Annapurna I (8,091 m), Annapurna South (7,219 m), Machapuchhre (6993 m) and Hiunchuli (6,441 m) in one setting. It’s possible to see the famous viewpoint at Poon Hill via the ABC trail.

Annapurna Circuit trek takes 17 to 21 days long. Manang and Mustang are of the higher elevations. I would choose this route for culture as I read the higher areas are predominantly Tibetan Buddhist. AC’s summit is also higher than ABC at the height of 5,416m in Thorung La (pass). There’s also a famous lake to see called Tilicho Lake, a side trip (3 days) from Manang.

Everest Base Camp is a campsite at the bottom of Mount Everest. Its highest point is in altitude of 5,364m. It takes 14-20 days to complete the trek and there’s a high risk to get altitude sickness. Trekkers usually fly from Kathmandu to Lukla to save time and energy before beginning the morning trek to this base camp. I didn’t read much about this trek before because it’s impossible to trek given the limited time we had.

Annapurna Base Camp
Annapurna Base Camp!

Pre-trip Preparations Before Flying to Nepal

1. Health check
To trek or not to trek after a cyst surgery and pneumonia? - That is the question
Two months before the trip, my boyfriend caught a community-acquired pneumonia. It was not bad like he needed to be confined. Shortly after that, a swelling in his back arose which was then diagnosed as a sebaceous cyst. It had to be removed and so my boyfriend had to undergo surgery before the trip. Talk about perfect timing, right? We told the surgeon that we’ll be trekking in Nepal soon and that it will require him to carry a 50L backpack. Although his stitches will be fully healed in time for our trek, the doctor advised not to trek with a heavy backpack. It’s not possible to do so due to the duration of the trek, so we needed to hire a porter guide in Pokhara - which turned out to be the best decision ever (see next post to know more).

2. Get physically fit before the trek
I had to question the heavens why I allowed myself to interrupt my sedentary otherwise fun lifestyle. I'm desk-bound, lazy, lethargic. I never exercised because I hate sweating. But damn this trek, I had to enrol myself in the gym for 2 months! Anyway, here’s how we prepared physically for the trek:
1. First things first! Enrol in a gym with complete facility for leg workout i.e., bike and treadmill
2. Visit the gym every other day for 2 months to do, rather torture myself to do the following exercise without fail:
• Jog - 10° inclined
• Brisk walk - 30° inclined
• Walk - 0°
• Bike - set with higher weight / friction
• Two rounds climb - 20floor building
• Walk from the Fort to Ayala MRT, then Boni MRT to Sta. Mesa
• Repeat until I faint
3. During free weekends - My boyfriend go biking in rocky trails with his friends!
4. Monitor fluid intake closely to avoid dehydration
5. Take multivitamins daily
I’m not sure if I’ve overdone the “getting physically fit” part but I’m glad I took the routines very seriously. My legs were fine before, during and after the trek. I got occasional sore legs but it’s expected.

3. What do I need to bring?
Good footwear - Nothing is more inconvenient than trekking with an uncomfortable shoes. You will be walking on uneven trails, sometimes slippery. Boots are not mandatory. But you definitely need one with good ankle support and strong grip. It goes without saying that your footwear should fit your feet perfectly. Loose or super tight shoes cause blisters that are big boo-boos in a trek and no one wants to have them ever.

Right clothing - They say, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only wrong clothing.” It can be very cold in the morning and night time in the Himalayas so make sure you pack the right kind of clothes! I read some blogs before the trek and came up with my own list of clothes to bring:
• 1 - Down/Bubble jacket
• 1 - Fleece jacket
• 2 - Dry-fit tops
• 2 - Quick dry hiking pants (convertible to shorts)
• 3 - pairs of trekking socks
• 1 - scarf
• 3 - thermals (2 tops and 1 bottom)
• 1 - gloves (fleece)
• 1 - beanie
• 1 - brim hat
• 1 - raincoat
• 1 - quick-dry towel
annapurna sanctuary trek
Day 2: Gandruk
Hiking gears + Meds and First Aid + Aquatabs + Diamox-
• Hiking poles - Not mandatory but they are really helpful especially on the endless upward trail.
• Headlamp - nice to have everywhere
• Sleeping bag - I’d say this one is mandatory because the teahouses don’t have heaters! When the lodges are full, you might end up sleeping on the floor without a blanket. If you don’t have the budget for a sleeping bag, you can rent them for less than a dollar per day in Pokhara.
• Aquatabs - You can buy these in any drugstore in Pokhara. They are cheap and won’t leave any taste in your water. I think we used 1 tab for every 500ml of filtered water along the trek. I didn’t have any stomach problems after drinking spring waters for a week, yay!
• Diamox - We took Diamox twice a day at the start of Day 2 to help acclimatize. The symptoms of AMS is different for every person so we thought this medicine could at least help get rid of it. Though despite taking Diamox, my boyfriend feel like he encountered the symptoms of AMS when we were in MBC. He recovered immediately after getting enough rest.

4. Get a travel insurance preferably with helicopter rescue 
Although this may add to the total cost of travel, I’d recommend getting one for peace of mind. Due to high elevation, trekkers may be prone to altitude sickness or AMS. In worst cases, AMS can lead to death. Hospitals and clinics in the mountains are hard to reach. Sometimes, helicopter rescue may be needed to either evacuate or send a patient to the nearest hospital. It will be costly if you shoulder these expenses so getting insured will give you peace of mind. You can enjoy the trek more if you don’t worry about these things.

5. Best time to go trekking in the Annapurna Sanctuary
October - November = This is Nepal’s peak season  and the best time to go trekking.
February - April = End of dry season; second best time to trek
May - September = Monsoon season, expect heavy rains

Average Cost
Permits / Mandatory Fees
Visa on arrival - $25
• TIM Permit - Rs 2000
• Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) Fee - Rs 2000

Basic Needs
• Accommodation - $5 per night (if teahouses are full, you have to share your room with other trekkers)
• Food - $5-10 per meal. The higher you go up the mountain the more expensive it is
• Porter - $15-18 per day; Acceptable weight they carry: 20kg :)
• Water - Free but bring a sterilizer or at least some purification tablets
• Hot shower - $1
• Gear rentals (trekking poles, sleeping bags) in Pokhara - less than $1 per day
• Bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara - $10
• Taxi from Pokhara to Nayapul - Rs 1800

Trek Map and Elevations

Typical Itinerary

Day
Route
Highest Altitude
0
Kathmandu to Pokhara
860m
1
Pokhara to Nayapul to Gandruk
1640m
2
Gandruk to Chhomrong
2170m
3
Chhomrong to Bamboo
2310m*
4
Bamboo to Deurali
3000m*
5
Deurali to ABC to MBC
4130m*
6
MBC to Chhomrong
3700m
7
Chhomrong to Siwai to Pokhara
2170m
* Due to high risk of AMS, gradual ascent is needed for higher altitude


What to expect in the trek? 

Is it complicated?

The word “Himalayas” is already intimidating. Walking for 6-8 hours a day in an uneven trail for a week is not easy and doing so with a heavy backpack is a different story. The Annapurna Base Camp trek is not hard altitude-wise but it requires physical preparedness. The hardest part of the trek for me is the first 2 days because there are lots of upward trail. But I got used to it on the third day! It can be hot during the day (and very very cold at night) so never forget to rehydrate, eat high calorie snacks and stop for breaks as often as you need. Despite the challenge it takes to trek in Nepal, conditioning your mind and legs will help you gain momentum in trekking. Fatigue can wear you out but you didn’t go there to torture yourself, right? You are there for the view, for the experience, for a slice of the Himalayas! So don’t let fatigue waste the moment. Enjoy every little while that you’re in the mountain. You will love the scenery. You’ll know the Himalayas is worth it! You will never forget it. I promise.

Stay tuned for more on the Annapurna Base Camp Series!
Day 3 and 4: Climb That Goddamn Mountain
Day 5: The Himalayas I Wished For
Days 6 and 7: End of Trek and Celebrating Diwali Festivities in Nepal


#bestDayEver - Annapurna Base Camp
#bestDayEver - Annapurna Base Camp
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XO,


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