On the first day on the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal I met Elise, a thirty-something woman from France. We met at the tea house in Bhulbhule, the first stop on the circuit trek.
On the second day, we decided to walk together to ensure we don’t get lost along the way. The second day turned in the third day and the third day into the fourth. We ended up completing the entire circuit trek together. I hadn’t planned to walk with anyone for a day, let alone for eighteen days. I am sure Elise didn’t plan to do the same. Sometimes plans change and I am glad we met each other.
The Annapurna Circuit Trek is one of the majestic treks in Nepal. You traverse through stunning landscapes, with a lot of ascents and descents on all sorts of terrain. You cross roaring rivers by walking across hanging bridges. You stop at various tea houses along the way for some food. At night, you sleep in your sleeping bags with blankets to help you through the freezing nights.
It was quite a challenging trek for me. We didn’t have much luck with the weather. On some days, we had heavy snowfall making it challenging to navigate the path. At night, on most nights, the temperatures fell far below zero. During the day, we had strong winds which made it quite challenging to walk. But we carried on. We stuck together getting through the ups and downs of the trek, enjoying Nepalese hospitality together. After about ten days of trekking, we reached the final tea house before the Thorung La Pass crossing. The Thorung La Pass is at 5416m, the highest point on the trek.
On the eleventh day, we left at around 5 am to head towards the pass. We were expecting a snowstorm later in the day, which could close the Thorung La Pass and cancel trekking for days. It was our only chance. We had come this far. We wanted to complete the pass and the trek together.
We started as a large group, almost ten of us, but as we ascended the trail from base camp to the high pass, the first stop towards Thorung La Pass, Elise started to feel sick. She was feeling the altitude, and she slowed down. She wanted to turn and head back to the base camp. After a brief discussion, we agreed to hike further to the high pass and evaluate our options. To help her out, I carried her backpack for the middle part of the ascent. It was the most challenging thirty minutes of trekking I had done. But it was essential to be a team. It helped. With the weight off the back, she felt better. She slowly regained her strength and then her confidence. We reached the high pass after almost an hour of a slow climb.
The rest of the group had decided to go ahead, leaving us behind at the High Pass. We expected a snowstorm later in the morning, and no one fancied getting caught up in the storm. Elise and I got some hot tea to warm ourselves. The temperature was below zero degree Celsius. The water in our bottles had already frozen. It was only an hour into our trek. We had another nine hours to go. We bought some chocolates and coca-cola to help us through the journey, hoping the drink wouldn’t freeze quickly.
As we left the High Pass, we spotted another large group, probably 100 meters ahead, but with the deep snow that slowed us, and they, being much faster, left us behind. After about another half hour of trekking, we met another traveller Catherina, and the three of us decided to stick together.
Two hours into the trek, the winds started to pick up. Snow started falling, and visibility started to get worse. At this time, I started sensing my stomach falling apart. I had to use the facilities, which effectively meant doing my business near a rock in freezing weather, while being partially naked, exposing myself to the elements. The cold was too much to bear. I also had to use the snow to clean myself. I removed my gloves to do so. Within seconds, I ended up with swollen fingers. It wasn’t a good sign. And then after another twenty minutes of trekking, it happened again. I wasn’t feeling great. The wind was picking up again. The snow was falling harder. The visibility was getting worse. We still had about eight hours of trekking left for the day. The final destination seemed like an eternity away. The alternative was to turn back and give up on the trek. We couldn’t do that. We had come this far, and we had to carry on.
To be sure that my stomach doesn’t fall apart again, I decided not to eat or drink anything. Soon I started feeling weaker but carried on, trekking slowly behind Elise and Catherina. During the entire ascent to the pass, we made sure we looked out for each other. It was important. The visibility was almost zero. Five hours after we left the base camp, we reached the Thorung La Pass. The visibility was abysmal that it didn’t feel like a pass. There was a partially snow-covered indicator that we had made it to the right place. We felt accomplished.
We hugged each other, proud of our achievements. The rest of the journey was ahead of us. We had another three to four hours of trekking left for the day. The visibility had become very poor by then. The snow was still falling and had got a tad heavier by now.
We need indications to know that we are on the right path. We noticed a faint outline of iron poles marking the trail. They formed our navigation guides. We proceeded cautiously, knowing we had to look out for each other. Under these conditions, getting lost or getting injured were non-starters. No rescue was coming for days.
During the descent, as we searched for the poles, we fell in the snow, slipped on the ice, and nearly broke some bones. My leg got stuck in the snow in one instance, and I fell flat on my face. I was instantly worried that I had broken my leg, but luckily that wasn’t the case. I was just tired and hungry. We carried on. Elise fell. I helped her get up. Catherina fell. Elise did the same. We took turns to lead and follow. I did most of the following as I was drained and felt weak. We were exhausted, as we descended the clouds cleared for a couple of minutes to show us the trail before they closed again and the wind picked up. It happened a few times on our descent. After almost ten hours of trekking, we reached our destination. We had done it. The long hard day was over.
Over the next few days, Elise and I continued to battle the elements and make our way around the circuit. After eighteen days since we began, Elise and I completed the Annapurna Circuit Trek.
I could not have completed the circuit without her. She felt the same.
It was a lesson worth embracing.
In life, we have moments where we need help. In life, we can’t handle everything on our own. A support network is quite critical to one’s existence. Ask for help. Let someone else guide you when you fall. Eighteen days on the Annapurna Circuit Trek have taught me the valuable lesson.