“A human body is not made to function at the cruising altitude of a Boeing 747” – EVEREST, movie
When we left Amsterdam to travel full-time 6 months ago, we knew one of the destinations on our world trip was going to be Nepal. Our bucket list items was visiting the Himalayas and seeing the highest mountain on earth with our own eyes – Everest.
When we looked into the details of planning a trek to Everest Base Camp, reality started finally catching up with us. To make it to the base camp, we would need to plan in a very turbulent flight to the most dangerous airport in the world, several acclimatisation stops, sleeping at 5400m altitude, freezing temperatures, and the very likely risk of suffering altitude sickness. Wow!
What seemed to be a Sunday afternoon stroll in our naive minds suddenly turned into a serious expedition. We didn’t have any closed shoes with us, not even speaking about down jackets and sleeping bags.
Luckily, after a couple of hours browsing through online blogs we found what seemed to be a perfect alternative to Everest: the Annapurna Base Camp trek.
About the Annapurna Base Camp trek
Annapurna is reaches an altitude 8,810 meters, making it the world’s 10th highest mountain. It is situated in the Annapurna mountain range and is the most frequently visited trekking area in Nepal. In the Annapurna region, you have the choice between two popular trekking options apart from several shorter treks: a trek to the Annapurna Base Camp or the Annapurna Circuit trek. We chose the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek.
What convinced us to choose the ABC trek over the Annapurna Circuit
Duration. Going up ABC and down again, you should count on approximately 7 days, or 9-10 if you would like to include Poon Hill on your way up and the Australian Camp on your way down. Comparing this with the average duration of the Annapurna Circuit trek of 15 days, this seemed more comfortable for our untrained bodies and minds.
Altitude. The highest point you will reach during the ABC trek is 4,130m at the base camp itself. While altitude sickness can theoretically occur from 3,500m onwards, it remains unlikely to strike during the ABC trek. Firstly, the altitudes are not too high and secondly, there is sufficient time for acclimatisation.
Scenery. Since we didn’t experience the other treks for ourselves, we can only quote what we found through our online research. The ABC trek is reportedly richer in biodiversity than the Annapurna Circuit trek and you get to see the mountains right in front of you in a close up at the base camp, while you see them merely from a distance during the circuit trek.
A couple of things we wish we had known before we started the trek
We enjoyed the ABC trek and we think it was the best choice for us. However, knowing the following could have been helpful to prepare ourselves mentally for the trek and save some frustration during the trek.
You have never walked so many stairs in your life. The total amount of kilometres we measured over the 9 days was 128 km (using Apple Watch). Out of those, approximately 90% you are walking up or down hill, mostly via stairs. Yes, it’s exhausting but nothing you cannot handle. Just be prepared, we warned you!
Overall difficulty level is at least as high as at EBC or Annapurna Circuit. As we didn’t do the EBC and Annapurna Circuit treks we cannot speak from first hand experience. However, we heard from guides and hikers that did multiple treks that the ABC trek is physically more demanding when it comes to the characteristics of the route. This is mainly because of the steps and constant up and down. However, at the ABC trek you are less likely to have problems with exhaustion caused by altitude.
What we enjoyed a lot about the 9 days trek is that we were able to see a greatly diverse scenery. Every day surprised us with new landscapes. The route started off with green hills that were home to mountain villages and rice fields. We moved on to the jungle and walked for hours through dense mountain forests until we eventually climbed to an altitude where the landscape transformed into snowy mountains, ice rivers, and avalanches.
In a couple of days, our bodies went through a complete change of climate and a temperature drop of 35 degrees Celsius to -5 degrees C at our highest point in ABC. In the table below we summarised what you can expect per day.
As mentioned earlier, climbing up Poon Hill is a detour and is optional for the ABC trek. Without it, you can save 2 days of the trek by going straight up to ABC (keep in mind, way up and down will be then exactly the same). If you have the time, we would strongly recommend you to include Poon Hill into your itinerary. The panoramic mountain view at sunrise is absolutely breathtaking and was the number 1 highlight of our trek apart from the achievement of making it to the base camp.
How to organise the trek
Before the trek, you will have to pick one of the following four options.
- You do the trek without any guide or porter (however not as solo traveler, you should never trek alone). This is the cheapest option of all and can be a good option if you don’t mind carrying your luggage. The trails are largely inhabited and well market, so that it’s unlikely to get lost.
- You hire a porter. The porter will accompany you during your trip to carry your luggage (max 15 kg). He (mostly men do this job) usually doesn’t speak English. In this option you will still be in charge of planning your route and stays.
- You go with a porter guide. A porter guide is a guide that will help you with carrying your luggage and take up the organisational aspects of the trek. He will usually plan the route together with you, tell you about the area, and make reservations for you in tea houses. A porter guide is often an aspiring guide who is about to receive his guide license and he is fluent in English. We chose this option and were very happy with it!
- You hire a certified guide. A guide is most knowledgeable about the nature and local life and will take up all organisational tasks for you. He will not carry your luggage, but he can arrange porters that will join you for the trip.
As you can imagine, the options increase in price from top to bottom of the list.
TIP! When you approach trekking agencies, we strongly advise not to book a package deal but only agree to organise the permits and the guide or porter via them. Pay all other expenses such as transportation, food, and accommodation yourself during the trek. We met many package deal travellers and the cost were oftentimes almost double compared to ours for hardly any additional value.
We organised our porter guide via our hotel in Pokhara and we were extremely lucky with our guide. He was a certified trekking guide who spoke very good English and was the kindest and most attentive person! He always made sure we were fine, had a private room and enough blankets, and was fun to spend time with. He made our experience truly special and we are happy to recommend him to anybody who wishes to have a safe and enjoyable time. His contact information is listed below. We don’t take any commissions and you are free to get in touch with Hem via email to see if he is a good fit for you. Btw, he does all treks in Nepal, not only the ABC trek.
Hemraj Kumal, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Advised to contact at least 1 month in advance)
TIP! You will need two arrange permits for your ABC trek: The trekking permit and the TIMS. Any agency or hotel will be able to assist you to obtain your permits (1 day before the trek is sufficient). In April 2019 the cost was 3000 NRS for the trekking permit and and 1000 NRS for the TIMS card. We paid an additional 500 NRS as commission to our hotel.
Safety of porters
At first, it felt strange to think about hiring somebody to carry our backpack. However, reducing your own baggage to the bare minimum will make your hiking experience a lot more enjoyable and you create an income source for a low income household.
Although it is common to hire a porter, it is important to do it the right way! Make sure your porter is insured via your TIMS card! His name should be mentioned on the paper. Also, please be considerate with how many kilos you let him carry! We saw porters carrying as much as 30-40 kg, which is simply inhumane. Make sure that your bag does not exceed 15 kg. Also, check if your porter is wearing appropriate shoes and clothing. We saw some walking on flip-flops, which is just dangerous.
Below you can see what we spent for 9 days for 2 persons, including our own and our porter guide’s transportation from and to Pokhara.
- Permit & TIMS: 4500 NRS p.p.
- Porter guide: 1900 NRS / day
- Accommodation: average of 500 NRS / day for double room
- Transportation: 1300 NRS / 2 people & guide
- Food and drinks: 2500 NRS on average / day / 2 people
- Entrance fees (Poon Hill, Hot Spring): 200 NRS p.p.
- Rental equipment (2 jackets, 1 pair of sticks, 1 sleeping bag):
On top of that you should count some extra rupees for luxury items (e.g. chocolate!), any additional gear you might need, emergency kit (plasters, pain killers, vaseline, etc.), or anything else you might need.
How to prepare for the trek
We didn’t prepare physically for the trek, but you should be moderately fit to do the trek in the suggested pace. By that we mean, everyone who is in a normal healthy shape and can walk a couple of meters without breaking out in sweat, can do it. We saw even kids and seniors walking the route (not that we would recommend it), so you shouldn’t worry too much. One thing we would like to point out though is that you will have to walk an insane amount of stairs, every single day. Up and down, but mostly up. This made the trek not only physically demanding but gave us also mentally and emotionally sometimes a tough time.
One important aspect of the preparation is to pack proper gear. Make sure to take only essentials with you. For us it was quite challenging to pack for every situation without overpacking. It’s important to travel light as either you yourself or your porter will have to carry the load on your backs all the way up to the base camp, where air gets thinner. In our packing list we give you an overview of the must take items, based on our experience.
What to bring – our packing list
Wondering what to pack? GET OUR FULL LIST HERE
TIP! If you can, bring all necessary clothing and trekking shoes from home. There are many trekking shops in Kathmandu and Pokhara, however quality is questionable, products are counterfeit, and value for price is very low. Especially shoes are a problem if you are wearing non-Asian size like Tomer. His shoe size is 46 and we were looking for 4 days and 2 cities to find trekking shoes for him!
Useful things to know before you go – be prepared!
- After passing Gorephani, you will be charged for electricity. This means paying 100-300 NRS per device to get it fully charged.
- The higher up you go, the colder it will get, especially at night. Bring warm pyjamas and a sleeping bag if you are sensitive!
- If you want to shower hot, you will have to pay around 200 NRS per gas shower.
- Water gets very price during the trek (100 NRS per 1l bottle). Also higher towards the top, plastic bottles are not allowed and are therefore not available for purchase. Bring water purification tablets, they saved us a lot of money!
- As fruits and vegetables are scarce towards the top, we advise to buy as much as possible fruits further down and bring vitamins to stay healthy as much as possible.
- We already mentioned it, you will walk lots and lots of steps! Get mentally ready for it!
- You will pass some high bridges. The highest suspension bridge we crossed was 287m high, definitely an experience!
- Anastasia had two days of moderate headache due to exhaustion and cold weather. To prevent headache, make sure you wear a hat whenever it’s cold or windy and try to avoid drinking ice cold water. Bring Paracetamol, just in case.
We hope that this guide gave you some useful tips for the planning of your ABC trek and you feel prepared to start your adventure! If you miss any information leave us a comment and we’ll get back to you. We’ll be happy to see your mountain shots on Instagram, tag us with @generationnomads and we’ll be there to cheer for you!
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