Annapurna Mountain

Hiking to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) without a guide

“You can’t do Annapurna Base Camp in less than seven days”

Yes you can, we did it in five! It was a tough hike, but definitely manageable. We were pushed for time but wanted to reach Annapurna Base Camp (ABC). Our first day was a fairly late start from Pokhara, so we only walked a couple of hours. On the final day we only walked for just over an hour. The three days in the middle… ok, maybe they were a bit more challenging…

Here’s an insight into the route we took, top tips if you’re going to do the trek…. and some experiences we had along the way. 

The ABC trek is one of the most popular hikes in Nepal, and it’s easy to see why. The terrain is varied, you get to see many magnificent peaks of the Himalayas, walk through remote villages, and if you take your time, anyone can do it. But be warned – there are big groups all along this route (and we did it in February, not even peak season), so you end up saying ‘Namaste’ countless times throughout the day to your fellow hikers. If you want a quieter route and have time, do the more challenging Annapurna Circuit.

My friend Katie and I walked at a fair pace – I’ve included our timings, as we found the official times in the ABC area map weren’t always accurate.  

Nearly everyone asked us ‘Where is your guide?” or “Where is your porter?”, I’m sure this was simply because we were two females walking on our own. But the trail is basically one way up and down once you are past Chhomrong. Just make sure you buy a map from any of the trekking shops in Pokhara to be safe.

To make the hike easier, you could change the places you stay overnight to balance your daily distances. But definitely don’t miss out on soaking in the hot springs in Jhinu Danda towards the end of your hike!

*Disclaimer – This blog is purely to tell you about our experiences, don’t take this as advice for the route you should also follow. If you are unsure about your ability to hike, always go with a guide (book a private guide so you can go at your own pace). We climbed over 1100m in one day above 3000m, which isn’t always advisable, so please do this at your own risk. We didn’t feel any effects of altitude sickness, but be warned – it happens.

Our route:

Day 1: Taxi from Pokhara to Siwa (1.5-2 hours), hike from Siwa (1230m) to Jhinu Danda (1780m)

Day 2: Jhinu Danda (1780m) to Himalaya (2920m)

Day 3: Himalaya (2920m) to Annapurna Base Camp (4130m), then down to Deurali (3194m)

Day 4: Deurali (3194m) to Jhinu Danda (1780m) (and a visit to the hot springs!)

Day 5: Jhinu Danda (1780m) to trailhead near Ghandruk (1 hr), then jeep back to Pokhara

Day 1: Taxi from Pokhara to Siwa (1.5-2 hours), hike from Siwa (1230m) to Jhinu Danda (1780m)

Distance: 6km, steps: 20,710 (although some of these were definitely acquired from the very bumpy taxi journey!)

Getting to the start

We took a taxi from our guesthouse (thanks to Raj, the lovely owner of Pushpa Guesthouse for his help) to the Nepal Tourist Office in Damside. Our driver waited while we sorted our ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Permit) – 2400 Rs ($24 USD) and our TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management System) permit – 2000Rs ($20USD). You need two passport photos for each permit (or you can pay a bit extra and they will take a photo for you). 

Onwards to Nayapul, where we grabbed some local bananas and got into another taxi, up a road with countless hairpin bends and with steep drops. Katie did not enjoy this part of the journey at all. We even swapped sides in the taxi, only to drive on another 100m and the cliffs changed sides to the one she was sitting on….! The journey took about two hours in total and cost us 2000Rs.

You can start the hike from Nayapul, but honestly I wouldn’t recommend it – all you do is walk up the dirt road that we drove up. It takes several hours with a constant stream of jeeps and taxis going past, kicking up dust into your face.

The hike begins

Off we set from Siwa (1230m), glad to finally be on the move and in the mountains! After ten minutes of walking Katie said, “Shall we play a game of ‘who am I?’”, to which I replied “Have we run out of conversation already?”. There wasn’t much hope for us for the next five days!

After a fairly easy walk for one hour and 40 minutes, we passed a small town called New Bridge. During this point, I came up with the very philosophical statement “Hiking is just a case of focussing on putting one foot in front of the other. Much like life really…”. I guess I was trying not to think too much about what was to come over the next few days.

From there, we walked down to a river crossing, then back up a fairly steep path to Jhinu Danda, for one hour. It was about 4.30pm by this point, so we decided to stop while it was still light.

Our first tea house experience

We stayed at the nicest tea house of the trek ‘Hotel Namaste’, where the room cost just 400Rs for both of us – not bad for $4.

The tea houses are Government regulated, so the price for a room is the same in every place. The food prices change as you go up the mountain – you will understand why, when you see young guys carrying all the supplies in a Doko (a bamboo basket that is carried with a strap over your head) – up the thousands of steps!

Dal BhatFor dinner, we ate our first Dal Bhat, a Nepalese classic which is a lentil soup. This one was also served with veg curry, spinach, rice and pickles. It was delicious, and the best bit – they kept bringing you top-ups so you could keep eating until you were full! Music to my ears! Not that we’d done enough hiking that day to justify it, but never mind.

The great thing about the tea houses is that you can share tales of your day with fellow hikers. We met a guy who had been hiking for about 30 days around the Annapurna Circuit, who was a base jumper. Cue many questions from us both – how did you get into that? How many jumps have you done? Where have you jumped from?

Several cups of tea – chai, green, ginger, lemon (you name it, we drank it) – later, we headed to bed, ready for an early start the next day.

Day 2: Jhinu Danda (1780m) to Himalaya (2920m)

Distance: 22km, steps 29,000

Coffee at 'Excellent view guesthouse'We set off at 7.30am with Chhomrong in our sights as our first stop for breakfast. There was no warm-up, it was straight in for the kill with countless steep steps, up and up, for one hour and 40 minutes.

At “Excellent View Top Lodge & Restaurant”, we had our first proper sighting of the incredible snow-capped Annapurna range. Proper coffee and scrumptious porridge with fresh fruit was devoured, while we enjoyed the scenery. Who knew we’d be able to get such delights in the middle of the Himalayas! Not going to lie, these things are probably what kept me going along the rest of the hike, as well as a couple of Mars bars I had stashed in my pocket!

Steps, steps and more steps…

Steps up to ChhomrongMany, many steps and two hours later, we reached Sinuwa for another short pit stop. By then, we were in the swing of things and making great progress. Katie counted that we overtook (or “burned” as she put it – her Dad would be proud) more than 30 people, mostly groups of Chinese and Korean tourists. One more hour hiking and we arrived at Bamboo, but we carried on to Dovan, one hour further for a lunch stop (spinach omelette, just in case you were interested).

After lunch, my legs were starting to burn, so I found the next hour of uphill pretty tough going. We had walked for nearly seven hours. It was starting to snow by the time we reached Himalaya lodge – I was exhausted and cold. We sat in the communal area of the lodge, huddled over our mugs of tea and barely talking as we had no energy.

It was definitely time for more food – dal bhat again! I recommend sticking to the local food. The menus have Western food on them but they can be a bit dodgy – see below for more on that…

Time to cosy up

Bedtime called about 8.30pm, and despite having four beds in our room, we huddled together in the double bed for warmth. I put on nearly every item of clothing I had, including thermals, t-shirts, fleece, two pairs of leggings, hat, buff, glove liners, then got inside my sleeping bag liner and underneath two blankets. It may have been slight overkill though, as I did wake up in the night and have to shed a layer.

This day was loooong so I would probably not recommend you walk this far unless you are very fit. Possibly better to stop in Bamboo.

Day 3: Himalaya (2920m) to Annapurna Base Camp (4130m), then down to Deurali

Distance: 28km, 35,000 steps

Today was the BIG day – we were aiming for Annapurna Base Camp! We set off at 7.30am again, I’d recommend setting off early, see this and other tips below. There had been more snow overnight so we were a bit slower as the path was pretty icy up to Deurali.

From there up to Machapuchare Base Camp (MBC), we got stuck behind a lot of groups, which was slightly frustrating as it make it difficult to go at your own pace. We still managed to ‘burn’ over 60 people on this section of the trail.

Snow capped mountains

It was a brilliantly sunny day and the views of the harsh peaks were spectacular! You can marvel at numerous peaks of Mt. Machapuchare (aka FishTail), Mt. Hiunchuli and the Annapurna range.

The final push

Once at MBC we could see the Annapurna mountain towering 8091m above us. Just one more section to go until we reached the summit. Well, base camp, but the summit of our walk at least.

The ground was completely covered in snow, in some places it was knee deep, which made it a steady slog uphill. After nearly an hour, we could spot the cluster of tea houses marking ABC in the distance – hoorah!

We carried on, a more gentle incline now –  but the tea houses didn’t seem to be getting any nearer. A few people passed us on their way down with words of encouragement – we were so close!

Oh, another word of warning here… don’t ask people coming in the opposite direction “how long to the next tea house” as the answers will vary enormously! One guy we asked this question to, said “For you – two hours!”, so we were pleasantly surprised when after thirty minutes we arrived at said destination – the cheek! Anyway, I digress…

Forty five minutes later, we arrived at ABC with huge smiles on our faces! We stopped at the sign, lined up to get some snaps (yep, there was a queue!) and on to the teahouses.

Annapurna Base Camp sign

Beer time!

Beers at ABC

We spent over an hour at Base camp, enjoying the views and savouring our first beer of the trek. They must have cost about $6 each, but wow, was it worth it! It was one of the most satisfying beers I’ve ever had!

But, it was only the halfway point…

It was time to start our descent! On the way down from ABC, we passed two Korean guys who asked where we were from – I was a token Scot for this trip. “Ahhhh Scotland – WHISKY!” was their response, to which Katie said “I have some, would you like to try?”, which led to a wee dram all round with our new friends.

Off we went again, had a brief stop at one of the tea houses for a water refill. Two people were having the best time dancing away to some cheesy pop, so of course, I had to stop and join in!

No room at The Inn

We reached Deurali at about 5pm and it was getting dark. We hadn’t passed anyone on the way down from MBC. The first guesthouse we asked for a room only had shared rooms, which I wasn’t too keen for after such a long day. So, we carried on a few minutes down some steps to the next place.

The second place; no rooms, but they offered us beds behind the reception desk – no thanks. Third place; a room basically in their basement, which reeked of mildew. Nope, nope, no way. So back we went up the steps to the first place, which felt like a huge effort at this point. Oh and it was snowing, again!

A Chinese tour group thankfully agreed to share their room with us – but we had to split up. Katie went in with two ladies and they had to ask a couple if they minded if I shared with them, cue lots of laughter. The fact it was Valentine’s Day hadn’t crossed my mind at this point, I was too tired. When I realised, I was presuming/hoping they didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day in China! The couple were very friendly and lovely, again they couldn’t believe we were walking without a guide!

It was a very cold night at 3194m. After a dinner of spaghetti, tomato and cheese sauce, with an egg, we headed to bed. My stomach started to hurt, a lot. It wasn’t long until the couple must’ve regretted having me as their roommate, when I had to keep visiting the bathroom every hour. I say bathroom, I mean hole in the ground. It wasn’t the best experience. In fact, probably one of the worst nights I’ve had. But hey, you’ve got to go through rough times to appreciate the good times, right? Right??

 

Day 4: Deurali (3194m) to Jhinu Danda (1780m) (and a visit to the hot springs!)

DIstance: 31km, steps 42,000

Setting off in low light on day 4The next day I was, unsurprisingly, pretty low on energy, and motivation, so was rallied by Katie (who is an absolute machine and I couldn’t have done this hike without her!) to get going in the morning. At 7.15am, she was there with her bright and beautiful smile, as always.

There had been plenty of snow overnight, so we took it fairly easy as the ground was very icy and quite steep.

For our final night, we wanted to get back to our favourite tea house in Jhinu Danda, and also where we could soothe our aching muscles in the hot springs. So another big day ahead. I was trying not to think of how far we had to go that day, and instead breaking it up into just the next village we had to reach.

Down, down… up??

Donkeys walking down steps carrying gas cylindersDeurali to Himalaya took one hour and thirty minutes. We continued straight onto Dovan in forty five minutes. Then onto Bamboo in another forty five.

Between Bamboo and Sinuwa was tough going. Even though we were walking down, there was still a lot of ups! The ups included stairs. LOTS of them.

After a bit of light relief on fairly flat ground going through the woods, we then had 4000 more steps up in a row, up through Chhomrong (Katie counted, I was struggling too much to count)!

Then, after all those stairs we climbed on the way up, we had to go down, down, down, which definitely takes its toll on your knees! I would recommend taking at least one walking pole with you, even if you only end up using it on the downhill section.

Relief in the hot springs

After 40 minutes walking down more steps, we reached our favorite tea house. We both lay down and promptly fell asleep – it had been a long three days!

Refreshed, we headed to the hot springs which were another 20 minute walk down – just what we needed! We enjoyed a soak in the pools which felt so soothing on our aching legs. The scenery was beautiful, with the River Modi Khola rushing past.

It was dark by the time we headed back up (don’t forget your head torch!), so we took a shortcut back to the teahouse, only to be faced with about eight horses all tied up. It felt like running the gauntlet to get past them all, especially as the final horse was blocking the whole path and there was a steep bank on the side we had to walk around. I was too scared, so Katie had to go first!

 Day 5: Jhinu Danda (1780m) – trailhead near Ghandruk, then jeep back to Pokhara

Distance: 5km, 7000 steps

After nearly nine hours of much needed sleep, we had a leisurely morning and took our time over breakfast. We tried Gurung bread for the first time, a Tibetan bread which was a cross between bread and a pancake – fried and sweet, which tasted diiviineee!

Some locals were also going to Pokhara, so they agreed to show us the way to a place only one hour walk away where we could get a shared jeep back to Pokhara. *Word of warning, most people pre-book their jeep from here, we were lucky there were spots for us.

Once we reached the end, we had a celebratory Fanta and tube of Pringles (we are so rock and roll) while we waited for our jeep. We really wanted to get back for an event with our friend at the British Army Camp in Pokhara – post to follow.

It was the end of an incredible five days hiking in the Himalayas. There had been ups and downs – physically, but also mentally and emotionally – well, for me at least, but we had made it. I’d had the best time catching up properly with one of my closest friends, and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to share it with.

Top tips:

  • Set off early in the mornings to avoid the big groups, we left around 7.30am each day to get ahead, otherwise you can get stuck behind people and have to walk at their pace.
  • Don’t leave it too late to arrive at your guesthouse, otherwise you might end up sleeping behind reception. Plan to arrive not long after 4-4.30pm as big groups tend to book ahead. Note: we did this trek in off-season (early February) so guesthouses are likely to be even more full if you’re doing it in peak season.
  • Order your food and drinks at the same time as the rest of your group – this helps the tea house save energy. All gas canisters are carried up by porters or donkey, so do what you can to help them out!
  • Pack lightly and pack the right stuff. Don’t be that guy in jeans or that girl in a skirt (yes, really – we actually saw this!)

Thanks for reading, hope this helps with planning your hike up to ABC – or has inspired you to want to do it! Find out why I started FootLuce Adventures in my first blog post here

If you have any questions then please leave them in the comments below or drop me an email on hello@footluceadventures.com.

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