Pokhara, Nepal - Annapurna Circuit completed! Taking a bit of a novel approach, we took the alpine-style approach to the walk. So decisions had to be made....
1. No sleeping bag (we'll depend on getting blankets at each teahouse - not guaranteed though!) but include a sleeping bag liner. Gulp.
2. one camera - weight savings (mainly a good choice - other option would've included tripods, etc. which was too much)
3. iPods and solar charger (turned out to be essential - barely enough electricity to run lights in many places!)
4. essentials (thermal jacket, rain jacket - important in lower altitude areas, hat/gloves, etc.)
5. 3 pairs underwear and socks (wash one, wear one, dry one :)
All told, we ended up with two rucksacks - a 30 liter and a 15 liter - for everything for both of us. Sweet! Considering most people were lugging a 50-60 liter each (or more a case of their poor porter was carrying this and they carried a 30-liter pack also), we were lean and mean. Anyway, Lonely Planet advises 18-21 days for the full loop (it's about 210km and over 8,000 meters of ascent, probably over 9,000 by my rough guesstimate with the map). 8 days later we sauntered back into Pokhara for a very welcome hot shower :) Not a bad week at the office.
Having said that, we weren't running or even walking continuously, Up at 5:45am and walking by 6, stop for breakfast for 7:30 for an hour, walk till 12/1pm and finish for the day. Not too bad at all.
We dived around the groups of Israelis (by far, the largest contingent of foreigners here) we slowly made our way up to the Thorang La pass at 5,400meters. If anyone is interested in getting to altitude relatively easily, you can't fault this, a long gradual climb up to the final 1,000 meter push. We'd no real issues with the altitude (bar myself suffering for an afternoon) but possibly helped with a little liberal usage of Diomox - the altitude wonder drug ;).
As for toughest days, on paper, the worst is the day to the pass, 1,000 meters of ascent (starting at 4,400meters) straight into 1,600 meters of descent to the next village and all condensed into about 10kms. In reality, the final days through the flatlands were the worst, a culmination of aching legs/hips and awfully boring flat 4x4 tracks in a dustbowl!Although not many dustbowls have Annapurna (8,019m) and Dhaulgairi (8,100m) on either side. To describe the views as amazing is an understatement - I struggled to capture it in a picture*
In the end, we bailed onto a jeep and knocked off about 30km but it worked out brilliantly as we ended up spending an evening with a lovely couple from Boulder, Colorado who were off to attempt Annapurna I (8,019m)! Stay safe Brad and Tanya - Annapurna looks serious! For anyone interested in mountaineering, check out their website here (www.daretodream2008.com) for info if interested, they're trying to update via satellite phone when they can.
Highlights of the trek?!? the 600 meter high rock slab (wish I'd had my shoes!). waterfalls, lots of waterfalls. Seeing Annapurna IV appear out of the clouds 4,000 meters above my head and only 15kms away - intimidating! Staying in a Bob Marley-themed lodge at 3,600 meters - rasta coffee on the menu (you can all guess what was in that :). Getting a jeep for 2 hours and only costing 2 Euro - but mainly because there were more people sitting on the roof of the jeep than inside it :) The final bus journey; again with as many people on the roof as inside all finished off with a hot shower back here in Pokhara.
Anyway, plan is to recover a bit for a day or so now, then head for Kathmandu. Stay tuned....