I get it. We all get it. You grew up looking at your gym teacher’s posters featuring inspirational messages superimposed upon panoramic images of Mount Everest. Those guys you knew from high school hiked it, and you can’t let investment bankers show you up. You have a bucket list, and this is the only mountain on it.
But forget Everest Base Camp.
According to a few guides, compared to the Annapurna Trail, the views from the Everest Camp aren’t as beautiful, the actual path isn’t as challenging, and you’ll probably get altitude sickness, which is less hardcore than it is gross. What a five-day Teahouse Trek through some of the Annapurna circuit lacks in infamy, it makes up for in varied landscapes, charming mountainside towns, and an adorably alliterative name. If you go in the spring, you get to spend a couple of days walking through pink forests of rhododendrons; in winter, you get to warm up from the cold with masala chai.
Just be careful of the animals that you’ll share the trail with: This is where, when my boyfriend’s backpack got stuck on a traveling sack of rice, he was dragged down a hillside by an oblivious – and fortunately slow-moving – donkey.
Where you’ll go:
The Ghorepani-Gandruk loop is ideal. Take a taxi from Pokhara to Nayal Pul and then follow the hordes (or ask for Birethani), then head up, up and up to Tike Dhunga for the first night. The brave might carry on the 3,200 unbroken steps to Ulleri on the first night to make for an easy second day. Then head to Ghorepani, which gives you breathtaking sunrise views. The third day can be tough, with lots of ups and downs en route to Tadapani.
On the fourth day, set out early for a short and (mostly) easy stroll to Ghandruk, with wonderful views – which you won’t care about at that point – and good restaurants – which you will care about. An hour later, waiting taxis will take you back to Pokhara. If you’re not dead and sick of stairs, add a day or two by cutting across the valley to Landruk and walking out to Dhampus.
How difficult you’ll find it:
One the one hand, this trail has been called “The Most Beautiful Walk in the World,” alluding to the fact that bona fide mountain climbing is harder.
On the other hand, when my boyfriend rented our sleeping bags, the unapologetically sexist store manager said, “I give your girlfriend two days before she cries and asks to be taken off the mountain.” I sure showed him; it was three days before I cried and asked to be taken off the mountain. To be fair, my boyfriend almost cried too, and if there had been any way to get off the mountain other than by our own two feet, by the third day he would have taken it.
Here’s the thing about the Himalayas: They’re cold. And steep. And sometimes, their coldness and steepness will make otherwise strong and rational human beings consider faking a life-threatening injury so that they can be medevaced back to a nice warm hotel room.
But there are many ways to soften the difficulty of the Annapurna Teahouse Trek – ways that don’t involve committing medical fraud. Most trekkers hire a guide, and some hire a porter, who will carry your pack to prevent you from throwing it off the side of the mountain.
Of course, you can’t control the weather. On the third day of our hike – the aforementioned day of tears and regret – the path was so cold and wet that it had frozen over. To cope with the ice on the stairs, I invented a new technique for climbing down a mountain, which involves tying a waterproof jacket around your waist and sliding down on your rear end. I call this technique, “The Worst Technique For Climbing Down A Mountain Ever Invented.” You may want to get a walking stick instead.
What you’ll need to bring:
Some people will tell you that you should probably bring a sleeping bag. Those people are dead wrong. You should definitely bring a sleeping bag. You should also bring a flashlight, a backpack, a waterproof shell (not just as a makeshift toboggan), warm clothes to trek and sleep in, a stash of high-protein snacks, a first-aid kit for when you fall, toilet paper, a canteen and a good book.
You can find all of those things – including the book – in Pokhara, your transit hub. Pokhara won’t seem like much when you first see it before the trek, but you’ll be very happy to return to its real actual beds that aren’t just razor-thin strips of foam.
Before you depart for the trek, take a day in Pokhara to get your permits sorted for the park, including a Trekkers’ Information Management Systems card ($10 with a guide and $20 without) and a permit to the Annapurna Conservation Area. All trekking agencies in Pokhara (and Kathmandu) will arrange these for you. Make sure to have at least four passport photos (plus two for the airport).