The Annapurna base camp (ABC) trek takes you into the heart of the Himalayas, to the base camp for Annapurna I, the tenth tallest peak in the world (8091m) and one that has been summited fewer times than Everest.
It’s not as famous as the Everest Base Camp trek, but I found it every bit as scenic and challenging. Here’s everything you need to know about doing it for yourself.
How long does the trek take?
The trek will take between 7 and 12 days. Some people practically run it to save days, but this time frame will allow you to enjoy the scenery, stop whenever you want, and spend an afternoon at some lovely hot springs.
Within this timeframe you can add on the additional trek to Poon Hill. This treated us to a magnificent Himalayan sunrise.
Will I get altitude sickness?
You can get altitude sickness anywhere above 2500m, and from 3000m it’s recommended to only sleep 300-500m higher each day. Ascend slowly and drink plenty of water; if you get a persistent headache then you should descend.
Altitude sickness doesn’t care if you’re super fit. In fact it’s the people who brag about how fast they’re going to do the trek who put themselves more at risk. The time frame mentioned above should allow you to ascend safely and avoid the headaches that many others experience at ABC when they ascend too quickly.
Do I need a guide?
Many people choose to undertake this trek by themselves. You’ll have little opportunity to get lost unless you decide to leave the paths. Hiring a local guide or porter will help to give money back to the economy and will no doubt improve your trek.
One option is to hire a porter guide (PG). These young guys are training to be guides, and their English should be quite good. They will carry your big bag (no more than 20kg) and will be able to give you lots of information along the way.
Dawa, our PG, knew the distances to the next village, the best places to eat, and where we should stay each night. I always wanted to stop as soon as we arrived, but he always took us a little further into the village, and the food was always excellent.
A PG costs around US$22 per day.
When should I go?
Pre and post monsoon are the most popular times to trek to ABC. This allows you to escape the really cold winter nights and the wet days of summer. Pre-monsoon is between March and May and post monsoon is from September to November.
We went in January, when the days were clear and sunny but the evenings were pretty wintry. Whilst we did experience some snow and ice, this was considered to be unseasonal even for winter and it was certainly preferable to the leeches that surface during the wet summer months.
What permits do I need?
You’ll need both a Trekkers’ Information Management System (TIMS) card and an Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP). These cost around US$45 if you get them through an agency in Kathmandu or Pokhara.
What gear do I need?
Either you or your porter are going to be carrying your stuff up and down those tracks so it’s best not to over-pack. The weather on the trek can vary and the best way to deal with the fluctuating temperatures is to layer properly.
You’ll need a base layer (a sports T-shirt), a fleece, a rain jacket (also handy against rain), and maybe even a down jacket. This was a life saver in the evenings. These can be rented in Pokhara or Kathmandu. Check the quality before you hire, as my zip didn’t work.
Walking boots are essential, and make sure you break them in before you leave. For night time a pair of flip flops or trainers will be more comfortable.
Beyond clothing you’ll want to take a head torch and a sleeping bag to make sure you’re warm at night.
In the main trekking seasons snow and ice shouldn’t be a major obstacle but the region is subject to weird weather spells that make predictions a bit useless. We didn’t bring crampons but found that the very prepared South Korean trekkers who made up the majority were all kitted out with them. You can get ones that you just pull over your boots and I would recommend picking up some when you get to Nepal.
Do I need drinking water?
Bottled water is available along the trek but as there’s no road access along the trek there is also no rubbish disposal. Don’t rely on boiled water as at altitude it rarely boiled to a temperature high enough and for long enough to kill any bad microorganisms.
It’s better to bring along a method for sterilising water yourself. This can be a steri-pen, a water bottle with a filter or iodine/chlorine tablets.
How much training should I do?
There are some really steep uphill segments and some knee-breaking descents on the ABC trek, but don’t let this put you off. As long as you can walk for a few hours each day then you’ll be fine. You can stop as often as you like and if you give yourself more time you shouldn’t have to rush.
This was my route:
Day 1: Pokhara – Tikhedunga (3 hours)
Take a taxi to Nayapul and start your trek from there, passing through Birethani for the ACAP and TIMS checkpoints. This route will ease you into trekking as it’s mainly along a jeep track, without the steps that will soon become your best friend, and after 3 hours you’ll have reached your destination for the day.
Some of the guesthouses are real sun traps in the afternoons, the perfect place to relax with a book.
Day 2: Tikhedunga – Ghorepani (2860m) (5 hours)
This was one of our longer days and there was some serious step climbing carried out, a bit of a shock to the system after the first day. From Tihkedunga up to Ulleri you will ascend 500m, which works out at just over 3000 steps and had me performing my best Darth Vader impression.
This slog took us just under 2 hours as we both had streaming colds. After a lunch break in Ulleri we carried on up to Ghorepani, taking a further 3 hours. This was the hardest day of the trek for me. Dawa had to push me up a couple of the final steps when my ginger stubbornness came out in full force and I wanted to give up.
Day 3: Ghorepani – Poon Hill (1 hour up, 45 mins down) – Tadopani (5 hours)
The early trek this morning pays off when you watch the sunrise over 17 mountain peaks at the top of Poon Hill (3193m). The trek up was icy and hard work but those views are going to be imprinted on my mind for a long time.
After a breakfast back in Ghorepani you’ll trek uphill again but in a different direction. This offers more of the excellent views you caught in the morning. We spent the rest of the day going up and down forest tracks before we hit Tadopani, a little village offering still more stunning views.
Day 4: Tadopani – Chomrong (2170m) (4.5 hours)
This was a beautiful day of trekking; forests open up to meadows that we crossed through as we descended so far that our knees started to cry.
Then there’s the uphill trek into the charming village of Chomrong. This took around 3.5 hours and we were happy to have a shorter day after the previous early start. Chomrong is apparently home to some popular bakeries but they weren’t open when we visited. This is also one of the cheapest places to stock up on toilet roll and beer for the next part of your trek.
Day 5: Chomrong – Bamboo (4.5 hours)
After descending all of the stairs in Chomrong you’ll be happy to start your ascent. This was a big one and it took us 1.5 hours to reach the next town of Sinuwa (2340m). This is a good pit stop.
A further climb and a descent landed us in Bamboo (2335m). Most people opt to stay in Doban (2505m), a further 40 minutes on the way up. If you have the time, staying in Bamboo was a great way to spend a sunny afternoon and meant this was just a short day trek. My knees were very happy.
Day 6: Bamboo – Deurali (3200m) (4.5 hours)
Passing through Doban and Himalaya (2920m) we pushed up and up to Deurali. In winter each family takes it in turn to stay and keep one tea house open. This resulted in a bustling evening and offered a nice place to chill out.
At this point it’s important to consider altitude sickness and not sleep too high too quickly.
Day 7: Deurali – ABC – MBC (3700m) (6 hours)
From Deurali you can make it to Machhapuchhre base camp in less than two hours. We set off early and were able to make it up to ABC (4130m) before lunch time. If you want to catch sunrise at ABC then it’s sensible to spend the night at MBC to avoid sleeping at too high an altitude without acclimatising.
Reaching ABC provided a weird mix of emotions: immense relief at finally arriving as well as excitement at being so high. The adrenaline let me strip down to my t-shirt for a photo with the sign and then it was time to layer back up and grab some lunch.
There had been a lot of snowfall before we arrived and so we couldn’t explore the area too much. The afternoons are known to be pretty cloudy up at ABC and so you can head back down or stay put for the night if you have acclimatised well.
Day 8: MBC – Bamboo (5.5 hours)
Machhapuchhre base camp is a bit of a misleading name. Machhapuchhre is considered sacred to the God Shiva and is off limits to climbers.
Still, it’s a nice place to relax and has some pretty lovely views of the mountains. Trekking back was a lot easier than the ascent but there were still a surprising number of hills. Bamboo, Doban or even Sinuwa for the masochists are all stopping options on the way back down.
Day 9: Bamboo – Chomrong or Jhinu Dana (4 or 5 hours)
This ‘descent’ still involves a lot of steep ascents and so might tire you out pretty quickly. The walk into Chomrong was enough for me to sleep there for the night but if you carry on for a further hour down many steps you’ll reach Jhinu Dana, home to some natural hot springs, the perfect remedy for tight muscles.
Day 10: Chomrong or Jhinu Dana – Landruk (1565m) (4 or 3 hours)
This route was pretty flat apart from the final push up to Landruk. Here we were overtaken by some old ladies carrying massive baskets of wood on their backs. After spending the morning in the hot springs the 3 hour walk proved enough for us.
Day 11: Landruk – Phedi (8 hours) taxi to Pokhara
Following the jeep track out of Landruk is definitely a different feeling from the rest of the ABC trek, as you’ll pass through Potana and other small Gurung villages.
If you have extra time you can stay up in Australian Camp. There were lots of birds of prey and great views at this stop. If not, you’ll continue down the steps to Phedi, where you can catch the bus or a taxi back to Pokhara and relax by the lake or leap off a mountain (with a parachute) if you’ve not quite had your adrenaline fix.