Things to know before doing the Annapurna Circuit
In November 2014, I finally did the trek of my dreams. Nepal has always been so close yet so far, and it never occurred to me that I could actually make it there for the trek I’ve been dying to go on. If you’ve read my entry about setting travel goals, doing the Annapurna Circuit was one of them on the list. Though the anticipation of the trek was very real, I failed to do any research prior to the trip. I had no idea what to pack, how high it was going to be, the number of days it was going to take, how the whole experience was going to be like — I was practically throwing myself into the deep end of the pool. I listened to tips from other trekkers that I met in Kathmandu and marveled at their experience, but it didn’t strike me to ask about pre-trek preparations.
Thus here are some things I wish someone would have told me before I started on a trek that I knew nothing about:
ON PRE-TREK PREPARATION:
1. Get acquainted geographically.
First things first, the Annapurna circuit is closer to Pokhara even though you can take a bus to the starting point of the trek from Kathmandu. That’s a no brainer for people who have done research but like I said, I knew zilch. That being said… let’s move on to the more important stuff.
2. Bring only what you need, even if you have a porter/guide.
I wanted to save the extra day of not travelling to Pokhara to leave the bulk of my things behind, so I decided to bring my entire bag with me thinking it wasn’t that much anyway. Big mistake. Carrying too much is going to affect your hike. I took the fact that I had a porter for granted, but sometimes the porter only takes you as far as the top of the Thorong La pass and then you’re on your own (that’s what happened to me). Leave your main backpack in the city that you’ll return to after, most hostels & guesthouses offer long term luggage storage.
3. Sort out your paperworks beforehand.
You will need a TIMS card and an ACAP permit to trek around the Annapurna region. Although it should set you back about US$40 altogether, there are checkpoints where officials will stop and check your permits. Make sure you have them beforehand to save the hassle of paying double for a permit at the circuit.
4. You can find everything you need from Thamel
It’s possible to purchase anything and everything needed for the trek in Thamel. Jackets, socks, headlamps, bottles, hiking sticks, carabiners, you name it, they have it. The streets of Thamel is filled with hundreds of shops selling equipment, enough to make an excited trekker dizzy from shopping. I would say it’s practically cheap knockoff sports gear paradise over there. Some people say that the quality of the equipments are not trustworthy but it’s good enough for your upcoming trek. Of course it wouldn’t last for years since it’s a North Fake that costs merely a fraction of the price. & if you don’t wish to purchase bulky items, it is possible to rent sleeping bag, trekking shoes, sticks and even thick jackets by the day.
5. Pack snacks like chocolates, cookies and granola bars.
Apart from eating the overpriced food in the guesthouses, having your own snacks is always a plus. Don’t get too carried away and pack too much munchies. For a 2 week trek, I had 10 granola bars and 5 chocolate bars. You can always pick up more on the way in bigger villages (though they might cost slightly more). If you don’t think you like or need chocolate bars, that will change when you realize how much sugar your body needs to replenish from hiking.
6. You can get any medication you need from pharmacies in Kathmandu & Pokhara
I rushed through the last couple of days before leaving, to obtain Diamox and water purification tablets. There isn’t a need for a prescription of Diamox/Dexamethasone (or any other altitude sickness pills) in Nepal. These are all available over the counter and it saves both time and money if purchased in Nepal.
7. Break into your shoes before your trek/avoid blisters.
Blisters are the worst things that could happen and it has set me back days taken to rest. Also make sure you have extra socks to pad up your feet in case blisters get bad and bring more blister plasters & moleskins than you think you need. They run out quicker than you think.
8. You don’t need a tent
The Annapurna Circuit has villages and towns almost every few hours of trekking, and they all have multiple lodging options. Unless you plan on going off the main path and camping in some mountains where there are no facilities whatsoever, there is no need for a tent. It only adds weight to your backpack.
9. It isn’t necessary to pay for a room
Many lodges do a deal — if you eat dinner and breakfasts there, you could get a room for free. But this request isn’t usually stated in black and white anywhere. Make sure you do a friendly negotiation with the lodge owners. In the case that the locals are not too happy about this arrangement, you can always move to the next guesthouses around. Although the higher up in altitude you go, the tougher it is to get a free room, especially at High Camp, there’s only 1 guesthouse so there’s no point in asking for the deal.
10. Bring a book to read/playing cards
There will be nights when you arrive in a guesthouse and have absolutely nothing to do. Apart from mingling with other trekkers, having some form of entertainment to kill time can be very useful.
11. In guesthouses, order pots of tea instead of a cup
There will be countless cups of tea orders during your weeks of trekking because of how comforting it is to have a warm cup to hold in the cold. Yes, it may cost slightly more, but you can enjoy many cups of tea throughout the night. Some places let you take the pot to your room and if they’re good sturdy thermal flasks, sometimes they stay warm till the next morning.
12. Bring a metal water bottle (approx $2-3 from Thamel)
This is incredibly useful at night when you’re higher up in altitude. You can put the bottle filled with (possibly cold) water on the fire stove/heater, let it heat up and then hug it to sleep under your sheets or in your sleeping bag. If you’re thirsty in the night you can also have a nice warm drink.
13. Sun protection
As you get higher up, the sun is going to get glaring and your skin will be extremely prone to sunburn. Bring sunglasses to prevent getting snow blindness and sunscreen to help prevent horrible burns
Cold = dry skin = chapped lips = cracked cuticles. Moisturize your skin often and bring a chapstick.