Annapurna Base Camp 2023

Pat Dayton
20 min readApr 12, 2023

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This spring, I finally got to join a Boghani/Parikh family trek in the Annapurna region of Nepal. The family has been going on treks since the 80s, and I’ve been hearing the stories from them since starting to date Natasha almost ten years ago (she’s previously been on three). It was really special to be part of one.

Annapurna South from Annapurna Base Camp (ABC)

Context

Nepal

Nepal is a small country of around 31M people tucked in between China and India. Its northern border is home to a large portion of the Himalayas, the world’s tallest mountain range.

Nepal

Annapurna

Named after the Hindu Goddess of food and nourishment, Annapurna is one of the fourteen 8000m peaks in the world. It is the tenth tallest mountain in the world at 26,545 ft. The Annapurna Conservation Area in which Annapurna resides is completely inside Nepal unlike other mountains such as Everest.

Annapurna South (left) and Annapurna I (right) as seen from ABC
Location of Annapurna. From Wiki

Trekking

Treks are long long hikes. We didn’t do anything technical like rope climbing, glacier travel, etc. But we walked a long way (47 miles!) with a lot of “up” (25k+ ft!) over the course of 9 days, staying in tea-houses each night.

Travel Days

We flew to Kathmandu on Qatar Airways connecting through Doha. Since Doha is almost exactly on the opposite side of the world as Seattle, we flew directly over the North Pole.

Sea ice north of Alaska
My entertainment center near the North Pole

After a 15 hour flight, we arrived in Qatar. We could see one of the stadiums from the air where the recent World Cup had taken place.

Soccer stadium from the air - probably Al Janoub Stadium

We had a roughly 8 hour layover, so we met up with Natasha’s cousin Mihir and his wife Erica who had flown in from D.C. We did a bit of walking around the super nice airport (it felt a lot like a resort in Vegas). We were all exhausted though so we got a hotel room and took a nap. After another 5 hour flight, we arrived in Kathmandu.

Upon arrival, our guide company gave us Nepali scarves as a warm welcome

Kathmandu

I’ve never been to South Asia before, so one of Natasha’s mantra’s for the whole trip was “Oh, it’s worse in India.” For me though, Kathmandu was wild. Traffic was nuts, with pedestrians, motorbikes, cars, and livestock all occupying the same lanes with seemingly no rules (and seemingly few issues). The buildings were super crowded. Flowers were blooming everywhere. The pollution was bad. There were sooooo many vendors. It was sensory overload, all the time.

Check out these power lines
seriously! lol

Then we turned off the street and into our hotel complex with a beautiful courtyard where all was serene. The buildings on all sides kept the sound to a minimum. We proceeded to stuff our faces with momos (Nepali dumplings).

Hotel courtyard
View from the top our our hotel - you can see the pollution wasn’t great
Pat, Mihir, Natasha, Erica
I probably ate 200 momos during the trip

Our hotel was in an area with many shops, mostly selling fake outdoor gear, or souvenirs, so we walked around and bought a few things. After a few hours, the rest of our crew arrived, bringing our total up to nine:

  • Natasha and Me
  • Mihir and Erica
  • Viraj — Mihir’s brother
  • Anu and Anand — Natasha’s Aunt/Uncle, Mihir/Viraj’s parents
  • Uma and Shirish — Anand and Anu’s frequent travel buddies

Bhaktapur

The following day we took a tour of Bhaktapur, a historically significant city outside of Kathmandu that used to be the capital of Nepal. We were able to see lots of traditional architecture and art as well as some of the devastation caused by the earthquakes in 2015.

Insanely intricate temple decorations
The tiny streets and brick architecture let you imagine why this place was so hard hit by the earthquakes
Famous peacock wood carving
Dal (lentils)
Nyatapola Temple (finished 1703) #earthquakeproof
Pottery square
More temples

We did a really good job on this trip of not getting “templed out.” Much better than on my trip to Japan with Doug in 2014.

Sarangkot

Next up was flying to Pokhara, the second largest city in Nepal then driving to Sarangkot, a village in the hills above Pokhara that is famous for parasailing. We loaded up our Satori Adventures branded duffels full of gear that we received the day before and jumped on our Buddha Air flight.

Loading up to go to the airport
First glimpses of the Himalayas
Machapuchare (Fish Tail) towering over the brand new Pokhara airport.
Buddha Air!

We drove up the hill to check into our hotel with beautiful views of the Himalayas and of Pokhara down below.

hauling our bags up to the hotel
Pokhara from Sarangkot
Erica and Viraj

The hotel was run by a woman and her daughter who made us a wonderful dinner. I had dal bhat, the seemingly national dish of Nepal. It’s a thali (metal plate) with dal (lentil soup), bhat (boiled rice), subjee (vegetable curry), sautéed greens, a papad (crispy spiced chickpea cracker), and some different pickles or salads. Very yummy. I probably had it 10 times over the course of the trip. You can actually find shirts around Nepal that read “24 Hour Dal Bhat Power.” Also note that it comes with refills.

dal bhat
also dal bhat

At this dinner, our guide Santosh formally introduced himself to those of us who didn’t already know him. He had guided the family’s Gokyo Ri trek in the Everest region back in fall of 2022 that some of the group attended. Santosh has guided for 20+ years, starting as a porter and now a lead guide. He used to guide on larger mountains, but now sticks to the treks since he has a family at home. We got to know him super well over the course of the trip, and it was really sad when we had to say bye at the end.

Santosh, our guide

The next morning I woke early to go see the sunrise over the Himalayas from the viewing tower above our hotel. It was spectacular.

Dhaulagiri — 7th highest mountain in world
Annapurna south, Machapuchare, and other peaks

After breakfast we got our gear packed and loaded the bus for the trip to Nayapul, where our trek would begin.

packed and ready for the trek

Annapurna Base Camp Trek

The next nine days comprised our trek to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC). We started in the town of Nayapul and did an out and back to ABC. We were picked up at a different spot than we started to make the last day a bit shorter (thank god). Also my stats below are close but not perfect, so don’t @ me please.

Nayapul at the bottom, ABC at the top left

Day 1 — Nayapul to Jhinu Danda — Theme: Longgggg

11.9 Miles | 5,921 ft Ascent | 4,724 ft Descent | Net 1,197 ft | End Elev. 5,600 ft

On the way to Nayapul we picked up our porters and assistant guide, Dadhi Ram. Dadhi Ram led the group each day (Santosh stayed in the back), and though he didn’t speak much English, he was able to communicate to much of our group with Hindi. An older Nepali gentleman who had worked for 20+ years driving trucks in Saudi Arabia, Dadiram had only started guiding a few years ago after his children had gone through college. He was also the king of selfies and Tik Tok on this trip :)

Dadhi Ram, our assistant guide and selfie master

As for the porters, I can’t say enough about these guys. Along with the pure physicality of their job hauling loads up and down the lower slopes of these huge mountains, they were super nice and accommodating the whole time.

Porters getting our bags ready. They used forehead straps to carry everything.

Once our porters had rigged their bags, they took off ahead and we followed. The trek had started! Due to a rockslide on the trail, we had to stay on the road for the whole day, which led to a very long day of walking. Plus it was pretty warm, so it was a sweaty affair.

Our starting point in Nayapul with Machapuchare in the distance, close to our ending point
Most of the commercial vehicles we passed were decorated with Western brands like this “Nike” bus

At the ~6 mile point, we stopped for some Indo-Chinese lunch at one of the numerous tea houses. This time I had fried noodles. In the Annapurna Conservation Area, all the menus at these tea houses are the same so we got intimately familiar with them. The items on the menu are set by a tourism board which also sets the price of the items by the elevation/distance needed to bring the materials to the tea houses.

Fried noodles
The road that we walked along for ~12 miles

We continued our walk along the road, sometimes cutting off sections with suspension bridges.

A relatively short suspension bridge
The worlds coolest volleyball court

During the later part of the day some stray dogs followed us in hopes of getting some food. This was fine until we walked through towns that already had stray dogs, and they got into fights. Luckily none of the dogs were aggressive toward us, but the fights would still put us all on edge.

Eventually, we could see Jhinu Danda across a 1,000 foot suspension bridge.

We stayed in the big white hotel after the bridge
We made it!

A few mules’ later, we were at our hotel drinking celebratory chai.

I drank so much masala chai (spiced milk tea) on this trip.

The first day was far longer than any of us expected due to the rock slide and the expected distances not being conveyed to us. The hotel was nice, and we slept soundly.

Day 2— Jhinu Danda to Tilche (Lower Sinuwa) — Theme: Stairs Pt. 1

2.7 Miles | 2,410 ft Ascent | 1,468 ft Descent | Net 942 ft | End Elevation 6,602 ft

Day two was significantly shorter in terms of distance and time, but it had a LOT of stairs. As the days progressed, the villages got less and less populated, so at this point we were still in a relatively populous area. The first leg of the day was to hike to the village of Chhomrong where we ate lunch. It was practically straight up from Jhinu so we all worked on the rest step. Chhomrong had breathtaking views of the valley below with the snowy peaks in the background, so it was a great place to eat our dal bhat.

View from Chhomrong. Sinuwa (upper and lower) can be seen directly across the valley
Dadhi Ram (right) and our porters (plus a stray dog) before lunch
More stray dogs that spent lunch barking at vultures that flew too close to the tea house

After lunch, we descended all the way down to the river before climbing back up to Tilche/Lower Sinuwa.

Climbing down, you can see the crossing at the very bottom of the valley
A stuppa built into the hillside between Chhomrong and Sinuwa
Local villager
Crossing the river before heading back up again

After the river, we got to finish our day traveling uphill.

Looking back at Chhomrong and the suspension bridge
Chhomrong from Sinuwa

Once we got to the teahouse in Sinuwa, we enjoyed some chai as the sun went down and had dinner.

Tea house in Sinuwa. After Jhinu, they were all somewhat similar
Sunset
Dinner time

Day 3— Tilche (Lower Sinuwa) to Himalaya — Theme: Soaked

6.4 Miles | 4,984 ft Ascent | 2,252 ft Descent | Net 2,732 ft | End Elevation 9,335 ft

Day three started out as a sunny stroll through the jungle. This section was less exposed than other sections so we had beautiful views of the local vegetation, including a large number of blooming rhododendrons. All was well until it started raining buckets.

Dadhi Ram leading the way
Machapuchare beginning to look fishy
At lunch, this happened
snow!

As we approached Himalaya, we began to get above the freeze point at which snow became present on the ground. Though you can’t really tell from the picture, it’s still raining, just not as hard. I was so stoked that the first building we passed in Himalaya had a coffee shop. I enjoyed my double espresso in the rain.

fin

Possibly the best part of this day was learning that we would all be staying in the same room because our booked rooms were no longer available. It was strongly implied that they were bribed out from under us (lol). Somehow though it was one of the quietest nights on the mountain.

Sleeping arrangements
twas a bit wet
top notch dal bhat at this place

Day 4 — Himalaya to Machapuchare Base Camp — Theme: Snow

3.7 Miles | 5,400 ft Ascent | 2,666 ft Descent | Net 2,734 ft | End Elev. 12,080ft

Up above the freeze point, our hike to MBC was probably the most harrowing. We took a detour around an avalanche hazard zone, which took us across the river (twice) on a muddy slog for about a mile before rejoining the main trail for a bunch of stairs. Also it snowed almost the whole afternoon.

Of course I grabbed a morning coffee before breakfast. The gentleman knew my order from that point onward. This is the coffee shop. Views were 5 star.
The day started nice
Our lunch spot Deurali, which means something like “high place” or “place of the gods”
Snow picking up
It wiggled as much as you’d expect
And it kept snowing
Near the top it stayed cold, but the snow let up

The porters were amazing and brought some hot tea to us a quarter mile from the finish because they thought we’d be cold. I really wish I’d gotten a picture. It was such a nice gesture.

Look twice, Machapuchare is popping out from the clouds. It’s ~23k feet tall.

Once we got close to camp, the afternoon precipitation began to peter out so we had some nice views of Machapuchare.

Pizza night

Santosh tipped us off that MBC had the best pizza so we ordered 9 cheese pizzas. Normally I was the garbage disposal for the trip, but Natasha cannot be controlled near pizza, so she took up the mantle this evening. There were no leftovers.

Day 5— Machapuchare Base Camp to Annapurna Base Camp — Theme: Victory Lap

2.1 Miles | 1,541 ft Ascent | 69 ft Descent | Net 1,472 ft | End Elev. 13,545 ft

Day five was our final day of ascent! A simple two mile hike up to ABC. I started the day off right with a bowl of Nepali rara noodles, pretty much a mild ramen.

Tea house cook preparing the rara noodles
Selfie to begin the day right

The morning was perfectly clear so all the big mountains were super visible the whole way up. The walk was triumphant. With the sun out most of us were down to our sun hoodies as our only layer because, despite the low temperatures, the solar radiation and reflection of the snow made you feel toasty.

View back to MBC and Machapuchare
Natasha looking coolAF
Natasha and Viraj recreating past trek pictures

After about an hour we reached ABC and had beautiful views of the major Annapurna Peaks (One, South, Fang and more).

Annapurna I - 26,545 feet
Machapuchare
Our crew with Annapurna South in the back
prompt: “pretend like you like each other”
Machapuchare
Erica and Natasha

After taking a million pictures from the welcome sign, we headed in for some relaxing in the dining hall. We grabbed some tasty coconut cookies and played card games, read, had sunglasses-on-staring-contests, etc.

Honor system staring contests because it was so bright with the sun reflection off the snow.

After some time hanging out, I took a walk up to the memorial area where a bronze bust of the first climber of Annapurna stood alongside plaques denoting the climbers who had died on the mountain. I noticed the name Anatoli Boukreev, a Soviet/Kazakh climber who was a primary character in the 1996 Everest disaster written about in Into Thin Air. He died a year later on Anapurna I.

Memorial of Anatoli Boukreev and his climbing partner
Memorial

That night was definitely a sleeping bag night as the rooms were probably in the 40–50 degree F range.

You can tell it’s cold in our room by Natasha’s face

But before we went to bed we went outside to take some long exposure photos of the mountains that were illuminated by the bright moon.

Orion over Annapurna South
Machapuchare

Once I could no longer feel my fingers, I retired for some sleep.

Day 6— Annapurna Base Camp to Himalaya — Theme: Yay gravity!

5.5 Miles | 2,598 ft Ascent | 6,753 ft Descent | Net -4,155 ft | End Elev. 9,335 ft

We awoke to a beautiful sunrise lighting up Annapurna from the direction of Machapuchare.

I fueled up with some rara noodles and chai before starting our gravity assisted (finally) walk out of the mountains.

Rara noodles and masala chai for breakfast

It was a hot one that morning, and walking into the sun meant we tried to cover every inch of our body to prevent sunburn.

As we walked down past MBC we continuously saw the helicopter whipping back and forth taking those down who didn’t want to make the walk. Pretty soon we were off the snow and micro-spiking our way through the mud and rocks.

Much more pleasant weather than on the way up

DJ Santosh began spinning some hot Nepali tracks which helped us cruise into Himalaya camp to end the evening. This time we got our own rooms :) And of course I got an evening double espresso with Mihir at my favorite coffee shop.

Rhododendrons

Day 7— Himalaya to Tilche (Lower Sinuwa) — Theme: Tired

6.4 Miles | 2,276 ft Ascent | 4,999 ft Descent | Net -2,723 ft | End Elev. 9,335 ft

Day seven was another long, but very downhill day, taking us back to Sinuwa.

Beautiful views of Machapuchare

We caught some more rain starting at Bamboo (same place it started raining the first time). Luckily the rain took our minds somewhat off the stairs after Bamboo. On our way into the mountains, we saw a ~80 year old woman on her way up these stairs. We all had two thoughts:

  1. I hope I’m that badass at 80
  2. These stairs are gonna suck on the way back out
The alpine ninjas were ready for the rain
A few hundred stairs up in the middle of your downhill day just to keep you on your toes.
Views of Chhomrong across the valley

Day 8— Tilche (Lower Sinuwa) to Jhinu Danda — Theme: Stairs Pt. 2

2.5 Miles | 1,428 ft Ascent | 2,392 ft Descent | Net -894 ft | End Elev. 5,600 ft

Though a short day, eight was a LOT of stairs. Natasha was of course counting and got to 2,232 (+/-).

Morning selfie
The stairs begin
Our porters waiting for us at lunch

Natasha and I took some time to buy some souvenirs in Chhomrong at lunch time.

Jhinu Danda. Our hotel is the big white/grey one on the left

Eventually we crested the Chhomrong and made the last descent of the day down into Jhinu Danda where we partook in some celebratory beers.

There was also a cute puppy for us to hang out with
Mihir and Santosh

Day 9— Jhinu Danda to Bus Pickup — Theme: Hot and Cranky

5.8 Miles | 2,479 ft Ascent | 3,525 ft Descent | Net -1,046 ft | End Elev. 4,611 ft

Our last day on the trail was far shorter than our first, but it still felt pretty long. The sun was out and it was toasty. Plus walking along the road is a bit of a letdown after walking in the Annapurna valley. Eventually though we made it to the bus pickup zone and our mountain time concluded.

Last day selfie

After the bus picked us up, we grabbed lunch in the same spot as the first day. Finally we were able to buy the porters a beer for their efforts. Afterward, we again boarded the bus to return to Sarangkot. Along the way we had to say bye to our porters which was a real bummer. Though we couldn’t communicate super well with them, we got to know them during the trip through smiles, pictures of their families, and little gestures. It was sad to say bye.

Saying bye to the porters

Back in Sarangkot, we declared it happy hour and soaked in the sun and beautiful views while drinking Gorkha Strong beer and eating veggie pokoda.

Happy hour Mihir
Some bomb pokoda
Beautiful moonrise over Pokhara

Pokhara

Leaving our Sarangkot hotel. Proprietor on the right
Flowers at our hotel

We took a bus down the hill into Pokhara, the second largest city in Nepal where we would have one day to hang out. We started out by visiting Mahesh’s salon so that we could all get massages and/or haircuts. The experiences varied.

Mahesh and co

Afterward we hit up a Dosa joint for lunch before napping at the hotel. I also did a bit of shopping at one of the billion fake outdoor gear stores where I may or may not have gotten a nice duffel bag and puffy coat. The counterfeit economy specifically for outdoorsy gear is wild in Nepal.

Dosa for lunch

Later, a nice walk by the lake before happy hour with Santosh where we chatted about Sherpa culture and many other topics.

Phewa Lake

Finally, we went to a great Indian restaurant (Mahesh’s recommendation after we turned him down for dinner at his house :D ) for a celebratory dinner. Natasha and Mihir ran the Superlative Award Ceremony and we had many laughs.

Naan/Chapathi cooking in the tandoor

After a late night stop for gelato, we called it for the evening.

Travel Days Home

Pokhara from our hotel roof

After a nice breakfast at the hotel, we took our last looks at Pokhara before flying back to Kathmandu. Back at the Kathmandu hotel we showered and packed before saying bye to Santosh (again, very sad). Really hoping we’ll get him as our guide whenever we do EBC in the future :)

After a nice lunch of Indian food and about 100 momos, it was time for the youngest five to head to the airport for our flight to Doha and eventually back home.

One last glimpse of the Himalayas
Hanging out at the lounge in Doha. I decided not to sleep until we got on the plane, toughing it out for our 12 hour layover. I drank far too much coffee.
Natasha took a different approach

Many hours later we were back in Seattle just in time for the cherry trees to bloom. Another wonderful trip complete.

Spring in Seattle

Cumulative Stats

Distance: 47.2 miles

Ascent: 28,744 ft

Descent: 27,751 ft

Max Elevation: 13,545 ft

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