Featured Image: Awesome Annapurna South on the ABC Annapurna Sanctuary Trek Nepal
Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 11 April 2018
Return to ABC Trek Nepal, November 2017
In Pokhara the tour agents advertise the ABC Annapurna Sanctuary trek Nepal round trip from Pokhara for from 7 days (even 6). Unfortunately many visitors do the ABC Annapurna Sanctuary trek in a week. It is much too short and if they’ve come from overseas the trek may be dangerous because of altitude. This is the same almost everywhere in Nepal for those coming with only two weeks or less for their vacation.
We planned to take 12 days for the trek. Although, I make the disclaimer — we couldn’t have done it in 7 days. We are too old and too unfit.
This article is the follow-up to our first trek to ABC in 2004 and a companion to it.
My fitness problem this time was that I developed an inflamed meniscus in my knee eight weeks before we left. Hence I spent my time visiting physiotherapists and doing knee exercises, rather than training for the walk. My knee was still sore in Nepal but my knee muscles had been well-strengthened and it wasn’t a problem.
The psychology of trekking
Our companion was much fitter than we were. She had walked in suburban Melbourne 1.5 to 2 hours every morning with her sister, seven days a week. However, she wasn’t a bushwalker and the challenge was much harder for her, because though she was fit, she didn’t know that she could do it. She had broken her ankle some years before. It made her uncertain in uneven terrain, but the problem might have been more psychological than physical.
A friend once said to me about bushwalking or trekking that because we have done it previously, we know we can do it, no matter what. What she meant was that even when you are exhausted, your feet hurt, its raining or cold and miserable and you are crying or upset, you’ve done it before and you know that with frequent rests, you’ll actually get there in the end.
Culture shock may have had something to do with the mix, as well. Denise and I always forget how third worldy Nepal is and seems, every time one goes.
Hence we admired our friend immensely because the challenge was extreme and she was stoic and uncomplaining. I suspect many trekkers in Nepal have to breach a psychological barrier to enjoy trekking.
On the positive side, we had Dorje as our head guide and Akal, Purba and Ram as our guide/porters. They were patient, careful, helpful and very experienced and also carrying light loads. Dorje had planned everything and though he’d told us that it was difficult to get accommodation in Annapurna Sanctuary, he phoned ahead, made us reach our destinations early and almost everything went to plan.
Many young, fit and experienced trekkers prefer to carry their own packs and forego a guide, but they are often unaware of the dangers. The money to hire a guide or porter is tiny in comparison with what we pay back home for minor services. Nepal is a poor country, with well-educated people but very few jobs. A large number of Nepalis depend on tourism for their livelihood.
Similarly, many quite reputable overseas backpacking, adventure and trekking companies use middlemen to organise their treks in Nepal. Despite regular complaints, the middlemen are a convenience and it is too hard to check up on them. Porters for these trekking companies are almost always over-loaded, sometimes excruciatingly so. The other downsides of using major overseas companies are:
- You hardly ever see your porters and learn very little about Nepalese life and culture.
- The itinerary is inflexible and if you are sick or suffering from the altitude, you have to soldier on regardless.
In comparison our guide Dorje and our three guide porters are with us every step of the way. We learn from them, get to know them and over time often become close friends. I’ve known Dorje for 10 years. We sponsor a health clinic in his village.
Climbing and trekking history in summary
Annapurna I was first climbed by Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal in 1950 but from the north or Annapurna Circuit side.
Colonel Jimmy Roberts pioneered and named the Annapurna Sanctuary as the route up the valley from Chomrong to MBC and ABC. Chris Bonington led the expedition from ABC that made the first successful assault of the south face of Annapurna I in 1970.
More details are given below.
Day 1 Siewe to Newbridge (4WD from Pokhara)
We stayed at Lakefront in Pokkara a moderately up-market and pleasant place, and left at 8 am. Dorje had organised to take us by 4WD to Siewe via Nayapul, which considering our fitness and my sore knee was a good starting point, rather than Phedi or Nayapul. On the way we’d passed a bus a couple of times ferrying a large group, who also drove to Siewe.
We didn’t set out from Siewe until nearly 12 and walked for about two hours on a fairly flat track to a lovely place called Kyumi on a bend of the river where we stopped for lunch. Here we met the large party of 35 Malaysians who had been training for this trek for six months and were planning to be in and out in 6 days.
We also met several pleasant people on the walk who were returning from ABC Annapurna Sanctuary and considered themselves ‘smelly’.
After lunch the going was fairly easy too and we pulled up at New Bridge only a couple of hours later for the night. The walk to Jhinu would be at least another couple of hours and Dorje thought it would be too steep for us that evening. The lodge we stayed in at New Bridge was pleasant enough.
After we’d organised ourselves, Dorje said that he’d had news that someone had collapsed on the way to Jhinu and died. It sounded like a heart attack. His companions were ahead of him and some other trekkers came upon him and tried CPR to no avail. We initially thought that it was one of the Malaysians, whom we’d had lunch with and were sad for them. But, it later turned out to have been a Frenchman whom we had not met.
Day 2 New Bridge to Chomrong
Next day in the morning the walk down to the river was pleasant enough, but from the river it was a steep long haul up to Jhinu where we had lunch at an interestingly painted and pleasant café. The walk up to Jhinu was pretty, we could see snowy mountains above us and the climb up towards Chomrong was steep but also interesting.
When we were above Jhinu looking down we saw a group of people congregating on an open patch of ground. Dorje said that they were bringing the body there to helicopter it back to Pokhara. Shortly after a helicopter arrived, stayed for twenty minutes and flew off.
We were relieved by the time we stopped climbing that it was just a short walk to Chomrong (2170 m) and that we began going down. This was a tough first full day for us.
We’d met a couple who’d extolled the virtues of the pizzas at a place they’d described and were relieved to find we were staying at the very place the MonaLisha Lodge. Chomrong is a moderate sized village on a steep but fertile slope with lovely views of the mountains Hinchuli, Annapurna South and across the valley Machhapuchhre or Fishtail. The family who were running the MonaLisha were a pleasant older couple and their son who ran a design-business in Pokhara and helped his parents out in season. The food and accommodation here were superior.
Day 3 Chomrong to Bamboo
Next morning we walked down from Chomrong, a very steep and quite long descent down stone steps. My knee was OK, but by the time I arrived near the suspension bridge across the river my calves were shaking and I had to stretch my right calf repeatedly. From the river it was another tough ascent through interesting fields and country to Shinuwe and Upper Shinuwe. From Upper Shinuwe you begin with a descent into the valley that begins the ABC Annapurna Sanctuary and leads to the bowl of mountains that is ABC and MBC.
The slow descent from Upper Shinuwe begins a stretch of trees and wild country. Before arriving at Bamboo one begins what we called the ‘Death Stairs’ a long descent into Bamboo itself. It was late afternoon and some of those coming in the opposite direction looked ‘buggered’. Some of them had walked a long way that day, a few even from ABC. We decided that we’d take it easy up the ‘Death Stairs’ on our return.
We arrived in Bamboo (2310 m) in good daylight. Dorje though he’d rung ahead wanted us to arrive at our overnight stop no later than 4 pm in the afternoon. Our room at Bamboo was a bit ordinary, but at least we were together in a room for three. The food was OK. The surroundings were pleasant. There were many people but the vibe was good.
As it got dark, our guides were sitting beside the creek waiting for their food and they saw a black bear in the bamboo and thickets beside the creek. We were fascinated but didn’t see anything. The toilets were a longish walk from our room and when I got up in the middle of the night I took my headlamp and scanned the creek, but I didn’t see any bears.
Day 4 Bamboo to Deorali
The first part of the walk from Bamboo to Deorali (3140 m) is through thick jungle with moss covered trees and occasional views of Machhupuchhre in the distance. A good picture of the jungle and early views up the valley is contained in the description of the 2004 trek. The whole walk from Bamboo to Doban is through pretty jungle and is quite lovely. We had lunch at Doban, which is where we stayed both on the way up and down from ABC previously. The lodges looked much the same as in 2004. Indeed, this was the same for much of the trek, there were more lodges but not many more. Although in a couple of spots some new lodges were being built, but not enough to handle the crowds in peak season.
Shortly after Doban, one begins the long climb up the valley to the end. The landscape becomes more austere and rocky. When we reached Deorali about 3.30 pm the cloud had come in. We’d begun to notice in the past few days that at this time of year the mornings were clear, but the clouds began to come in the afternoons and hide the mountains.
From old Doban, all the way up to close to MBC, are numerous avalanche chutes and danger spots, particularly the ravine just before Deorali. The walk can be especially dangerous in Spring, but the guides know this and what to avoid. Our old Lonely Planet Guide Trekking in the Himalaya from 2001, mentions crossing several avalanche chutes around old Doban, then mentions two after Doban before Himalaya and two between Himalaya and Deorali, including the major one mentioned below and several between Deorali and MBC.
I’m not sure if the trail is any better these days, but suspect that diversions across the river are still necessary in Spring.
Because we reached Deorali in late afternoon, the trail across the most dangerous avalanche ravine was still dangerous for another reason. The river has excavated a subterranean route under a massive admixture of ice and mud. In the late afternoon the ice and mud has melted in parts into a slippery porridge. We needed help from Dorje and our porters to get across. On the steep bits they directed us where to put each foot and held our ankles in place so that we couldn’t slip. It was enervating enough with their help, frightening if one was on one’s own.
The day before we walked back through Deorali on our way down, a Frenchwoman on her own, fell in this mud morass and hit her head on rocks. She had concussion, was helped up to Deorali, and helicoptered out to hospital in Pokhara.
Denise didn’t like Deorali much. It is an unfortunate (but safe) location just before a rock buttress that extends out into the valley and obscures the view, so even when it is clear you only see rock wall and no mountains, which are around the bend.
Nevertheless the lodge and the rooms were better than at Bamboo and we had separate rooms. The food was good also — for trekking food, which is relatively plain.
Day 5 Deorali to MBC
Above Deorali the valley opens up and it is a beautiful walk up to MBC with majestic views of the rock faces and Machhapuchhre, changing in its grandeur the whole way up. We met many of the large Malaysian group that we’d encountered on our first day straggling in disarray down from ABC. The ones at the end of the queue looked exhausted and were probably even worse psychologically, one wondered how they were going to make the impossible distance required by the end of the day. It was sad in a way to see them. Groups need to stick together and to support one another.
We took our time it was a very pleasant day and we arrived at MBC (3700 m) at around three in the afternoon.
Nevertheless, our room for four, which had been reserved, was no longer available and the lodge owner had put us in a room for seven with four French people. The French were very welcoming and we weren’t at all upset. Though Dorje was apologetic, there was nothing he could do and we were lucky that this was the worst that happened to us.
There is a massive amount of traffic through Annapurna Sanctuary these days and it is amazing that the demand is met. Next night at ABC a party of twenty Chinese arrived well after five pm. Their rooms had not been held but they slept comfortably enough with the porters in the dining room after everyone had left for the night.
Day 6 MBC to ABC
The walk up to ABC (4130 m) from MBC (3700 m) is remarkably pleasant and not too hard. Behind is the vista of Machhapucchre (6993 m) and Ghandharba Chuli (6348 m), ahead is the magnificence of Annapurna South (7219 m), Annapurna I (8091 m) and Tent Peak (5663 m).
In my previous post ABC 2004, I said:
The bowl of mountains one is surrounded by at ABC include Annapurna 1 (8091 m, ranked 10th in the world), Annapurna II to IV (7937 to 7525 m), Gangapurna (7454 m), Annapurna South (7219 m), Khangsar Khang (7485 m), Machhapuchhre (6993), Hiunchuli (6441 m) and Tent Peak (Tharpu Chuli, 5695 m). The amphitheatre here is a paradise, probably the most beautiful mountain vista in Nepal. The skyline is dominated by Hiunchuli, Annapurna South, Annapurna 1, Tent Peak and Machhapuchhre. On a clear morning it is too breathtaking for mere words.
This is the real attraction of ABC and the walk up to ABC from MBC is something splendid and not to be missed. It is one of the major views in Nepal and I cannot understand why it is not included in most 10 best views of Nepal, possibly because Everest is not included and it is the grand 360° view from ABC and MBC that transcends everything that these other views have.
Twice on this trek I had small bad patches, where it was hard to continue and neither were on difficult parts of the trek. The first was walking in the early morning just out of Bamboo. I lost my breath somehow and it took me ten minutes to recover it and this was on the flat. I’ve never had a panic attack or asthma, but I imagine this must be what the symptoms are like before everything goes to hell. The other time was on the last half hour into ABC. I was exhausted, my feet felt like lead and I was counting my steps one to six over and over. It came on quickly. I’d been enjoying every moment of the walk up until then and it went away as soon as we arrived at our destination.
We had spectacular views of the mountains all morning but the cloud came in shortly after we arrived at ABC. It snowed overnight, but the early morning next day was very cold but spectacularly clear.
Annapurna Sanctuary, ABC & MBC History
Maurice Herzog, a French mountaineer, accompanied by three experienced Chamonix guides, set out in 1950 with the specific intent of making the first ascent of an 8000 metre peak. His initial focus was not Annapurna and he approached Annapurna 1 from the Kali Gandaki or lower Annapurna Circuit side. Mark Horrell (see below) gives a good summary of the expedition. Maurice Herzog wrote a classic of mountain history titled Annapurna about the exploit. Horell wryly notes that if that if the field of amputation had as rich a literature as mountaineering, the book would be a classic in that genre as well. Annapurna sold over 11 million copies. Although controversy over what actually happened on the ascent emerged many years later.
Chris Bonington led the British expedition that was the first to climb the South Face of Annapurna 1 from the ABC side in 1970. The successful ascent of which was made by Dougal Haston and Don Whillans. Looking at the photograph one can clearly see the Main summit (8091 m), the Middle Summit, (8061 m) and the East Summit (8047). A search on Google images quickly shows the various climbing routes of the main expeditions that have climbed Annapurna I from its south face.
When one begins to climb the peaks over 8000m, one usually leaves Annapurna I to last as it is one of the most dangerous, because of avalanches.
However, it Was Colonel Jimmy Roberts (1916 to 1997, died in Pokhara) who really opened up and named the Annapurna Sanctuary. In 1956 he reconnoitered the approach to Machhapuchhre along the Seti Khola Valley (where his ashes are scattered) and in 1957 led the expedition to climb Machhapuchhre. David Cox and Wilfrid Noyce (both married) turned back just short of the summit, because it was late in the day and bad weather was approaching.
Controversially, Roberts later persuaded the Nepal Government to declare Machhapuchhre out of bounds, one inviolate Himalayan peak that should remain forever unclimbed.
Colonel Jimmy Roberts also pioneered the trekking industry in Nepal. In 1975 he retired and sold his trekking company Mountain Travel.
The number of visitors to Annapurna Sanctuary has trebled in the past twenty years. The owner of Deorali accommodation receives more than 250 guests in peak season, sleeping them in the dining room, store rooms wherever possible. The number of lodges and beds is tightly controlled by the government. In 2017, over 20,000 visitors were recorded for Annapurna Sanctuary. A nice trend is that Nepalis themselves are amongst the trekkers to the Sanctuary and this is growing throughout Nepal.
Day 7 ABC to Deorali
At ABC most trekkers get up for the dawn, climb up the back of the lodges, enjoy the views for half an hour to an hour, and then depart in a rush.
Illegal helicopters arrive at ABC in the morning. The guests are set down for between half an hour to an hour and then they depart. The flights are illegal because the guests do not pay the entry fee into the Conservation Area, but I’m sure that palms must be greased over this. The flights from Pokhara cost around $1000 USD.
We left late morning and stopped for lunch at MBC. There were a few snow gusts on the way down but after lunch it was snowing heavily when we left MBC. We broke out all our storm trousers parkas and cold weather gear and layers. Thus everything we brought had become useful. Fortunately, the snow stopped in the region where it would have become freezing rain. Hence the two hours in the snow was rather wonderful. (Although it was much too heavy to take photographs.)
It was nice to stop at Deorali overnight rather than forge on down the trail. We met a nice Irish woman and English man over dinner. He was very fit and not altitude affected. After they arrived at Deorali, while she rested, he ran to MBC and back. She said he was into extreme sports and she thought it wasn’t adventurous enough for him, but he was catering to her wishes. They were on their honeymoon.
Day 8 Deurali to Upper Sinuwe
Next day we weren’t in a hurry so Dorje thought we’d stop at Upper Sinuwe rather than walk all the way back to Chomrong. He suggested Upper Sinuwe as he knew lower Sinuwe would be full and it was not worth booking and risk losing the booking, if we weren’t in early.
We weren’t. We found the ‘Death Steps’ out of Bamboo were as long and hard as they had looked when we walked in, but not that challenging. Upper Sinuwe was a pleasant choice. It was much more run-down and basic than Lower Shinuwe, but we had the place almost to ourselves and our chance companions were more interesting than many we’d met on the way.
Day 9 Upper Sinuwe to Chomrong
We had little trouble on this stretch on the way back and enjoyed the scenery. I took many photographs in the agricultural zone on the walk up to Chomrong.
Day 10 Rest day Chomrong
We had a pleasant rest day in Chomrong. Chomrong always was a relatively large village on rich agricultural slopes. The top of the village is of course geared to tourism these days. There is good coffee, pizzas and two bakeries. We met others on our day off who were not hurrying anywhere.
Day 11 Chomrong to Kyumi
This was the reverse of our steep climb up to Chomrong. My right calf began complaining almost immediately on the descent to Jhinu and I spent a long time stretching it all the way down. We had a morning stop at Jhinu and my calf became dodgy the moment we set out again. Not far above the river my left calf seized up too and I only reached the river with help.
Once across, I hobbled pathetically but resigned the whole way to New Bridge, where we had a late lunch. At lunch I lathered my calves with Voltaran cream and wrapped them in elastic bandages. Surprisingly, I had no trouble walking on after lunch and by next morning my calf issue was a thing of the past; whereas my knee was sore but not a problem for the whole trek. Muscles fix themselves quickly, joints, sprains and stretched tendons don’t.
Day 12 Kyumi to Siewe (4WD to Pokhara)
We loved staying at Kyumi, a pleasant lodge, but also a mini-paradise on a bend of the river. The walk out to Siewe was easy and very pleasant. We thought we’d not dawdled, but the jeep driver was tetchy, because he’d expected us an hour earlier. Not our problem I thought.
Despite the crowds and the steep inclines, the ABC trek is one of the most accessible and lovely walks in Nepal. The Annapurna Sanctuary is beautiful and the bowl of mountains around MBC and ABC are as good as it gets!
For more photographs go to Annapurna Base Camp Trek, November 2017.
Key Words: ABC, Trek, Annapurna, Annapurna Base Camp, Annapurna Sanctuary, Fishtail, Machhapuchhre, Dorje Tamang, Annapurna I, Annapurna South, MBC, Machhapuchhre Base Camp, Hiunchuli, Tent Peak, Tharpu Chuli, Jhinu, Chomrong, Bamboo, Deorali, Maurice Herzog, Chris Bonington, Colonel Jimmy Roberts, Pokhara, Nepal
Dorje Tamang comes from Pattale in the Solukhumbu District or Lower Everest Region. I have known Dorje well for over ten years and would recommend him highly as a trekking organiser and guide. His email is: [email protected]. Dorje is honest, trustworthy and extremely experienced in organising and conducting treks anywhere in Nepal.
Dorje Tamang is also known as Nawa Tamang or Chyang. All Nepalese have these different nicknames. Tamang is Dorje’s ethnic group, other ethnic groups from the mountain areas of Nepal are Sherpa, Gurung, Rai and others.
Teresa Williams of SlowTrekking offers both full trekking and a cultural tour, which is a great introduction to the country. Her website also contains useful information about conditions, what to wear and what to expect in Nepal. This is an ethical company that respects the local culture and treats her guide porters well and responsibly. Dorje and Lahar are her senior guide/organisers.
Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal
Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal were the first to climb an 8000 metre peak, Annapurna I (8091 m). Annapurna I is the 10th highest mountain in the world. There are fourteen peaks over 8000 metres. Reinhold Messner an Italian was the first to climb all fourteen.
Mark Horrel writes a good article summarising this first climb of Annapurna I.
The Guardian Obituary 2012 is also revelatory.
Annapurna South Face
Most dangerous 8000 metre mountains
Annapurna is the most dangerous 8000 metre mountain with a fatality-to-summit ratio of 32%, which is supposedly astonishing, followed by K2, Nanga Parbat and Kangchenjunga.
Colonel Jimmy Roberts
Colonel Jimmy Roberts opened up and named the Annapurna Sanctuary, reconnoitered the approach to Machhapuchhre along the Seti Khola Valley and in 1957 led the expedition to climb Machhapuchhre. He then persuaded the Nepali Government to ban climbing on Machhapuchhre.
The Independent did a good short obituary of Roberts in 1997.
The final photos are the obligatory and ubiquitous dawn photos. Nowadays trekkers hurry up to ABC for the dawn, get excited and leave.