To think that we hiked over a 3 week period for over 200kms in the Himalayas in the middle of winter, in deep snow, with no guides, no proper equipment or even hiking poles, seems pretty crazy. So crazy in fact that when I tell people this, the look on their faces says it all. The tragic accident that happened on that exact route just two months prior should have tipped is off as to not go ahead and hike during the winter. The mountains have their own energy and you never know, whatever time of year, what could happen. And this was proved when this tragic accident happened in the peak of the high season in Nepal, a time very unusual and unpredictable.
Nevertheless I chose to head off on this 3 week circuit of the Annapurna Himalayan range by myself but was hoping to find some people to join me just to out my mind at ease. Luckily last minute I met Dave and we spend the only day we had before the hike to get prepared. We both bought/rented knock off North Face/ North Fake as it's known around Thamel, clothing and sleeping bags and with just a tiny 15l day pack full to the brim, I was ready to leave.
We were due to meet Om, a Nepalese friend of ours who had been around the circuit more than 30 times now and he was heading off again the same time as us. Unfortunately when the time came, with lack of wifi and communication methods we missed him by a day.
The trek was a mix of sceneries and was a trek described as being one of the best if not THE best long distance hike in the world and it definitely was! We walked on average about 6-8hrs a day on a good day and maybe 4hrs on a bad day. We also had some rest days once we got close to the summit of the Thorong La Pass on the Tibetan plateau at 5416m up, to acclimatise and prepare for the near 12hr power day to the summit and down again to the mustang region. That was the day everyone dreaded.. The weather had to be perfect, you had to be well prepared and be well rested but none of that is guaranteed and at the end of the day, it's all a risk. The first few days was rainforest, waterfalls and rocky trails up and down until finally one day we hit the snow line and began to get more and more immersed in it as the days passed.
We would meet people from different groups, with many stories, some struggling and some powering through and we all had that same goal to get over the pass safely. The pass was the scene of the past accident, when the cyclone hit the broad flat area during the groups crossing and we were very anxious about passing that spot.
Every day hiking the Himalayas is an incredible rush but at the same time you know that one slip on the narrow trail can throw you off the edge and the weather is constantly unpredictable. So unpredictable that we were lucky we had been delayed a day for the crossing because Xmas Day was a very windy day and a lot of our friends came across some difficulties. Boxing Day on the other hand couldn't have been perfect with not a breeze of wind to be felt.
This wasn't the case just the day before though for us making our way towards the pass. We ran in to the wind that day and lagging behind Dave and Rik our Belgian buddy, I was struck so hard by a gust of wind that it knocked me onto the ground into the snow right on the edge of the mountain. I couldn't prayed more that day if I'd tried, and I was relieved when I made it to our tea house for the night.
I can't say that taking me on such a big challenge with such an easy going attitude was responsible and I don't believe it was but luck was on our side and we made it over and down the pass with minimal difficulty apart from a few slips down the ice. We took on the challenge using my Annapurna Circuit Guide book as a personal guide and it was such a great help. Even though the trail is marked, in the winter the snow buries the signs so it's easy to be misled as we were many times. It's not fun to be lost coming close to sunset in the middle of the vast open spaces of the worlds biggest mountains.
Guides and porters are available everywhere and they are very cheap but from the way we saw some of the guides hurry on their people, i was glad we could take our own time to do things. Both Dave and I suffered slightly with altitude symptoms at the exact point the say - above 3000m and we took acclimatisation pills until we came off the pass. Even Rik who had hiked to Everest base camp not long before, had an altitude problem during the pass which frightened us all. You just never know! All the medication is available in Thamel, Kathmandu before the hike so be prepared for everything... Even blisters like I had!
Towards the end I suffered with tendinitis badly in both feet that last few days of the trek, once we were out of the snow and back on dusty trails, I wore my hiking sandals. Thank god for them! The end of the trek for us was New Year's Day spent in a natural hit spring in the mountains, well deserved after days of walking if you ask me. We then room dodgy public transport the last few kms back to Pokhara and there we celebrated our achievement. What a challenge and what memories were made!