The Annapurna Circuit trek, day #12

Posted: 28/04/20 | April 28th, 2020

The Annapurna Circuit trek, day #12. From High Camp to Thorong La Pass on to Muktinak. Finally reached Thorong La Pass battling -40°C and frostbite.

Yesterday we battled our way up to High Camp. The last stop before Thorong La Pass:

The Annapurna Circuit trek, day #11

The Annapurna Circuit trek, day #12

High Camp – Thorong La Pass – Muktinak: 17km
Altitude: 4850m -> 5416m -> 3800m

Total distance covered by foot: 157km

Finally, today is the day. We have been living up to this moment for months. Hiking for almost two weeks just to reach this point: Thorong La Pass. The highest point on the whole circuit and one of the highest passes in the world at 5416m. Insane, we are finally going to do it!! We were nervous, anxious, and very excited.

Freezing weird dreams.

We set the alarm for 4:30 since we wanted to get an early start. Normally the wind at the pass picks up after 11:00, making the pass treacherous. Some people told us that sleeping at High Camp is impossible because of the altitude. We slept fine but had very, very weird dreams. Extremely weird haha, and so did our friends.

It was so cold, extremely cold. All of our food and water was frozen. So was all the water at the guesthouse. We tried warming up one of our bottles in our jackets so we would have some drinking water at least. But a cold bottle of ice in the inside of your jacket is not very pleasant. We later found out it was -40°C degrees(and Fahrenheit), insane!!!

Luckily the skies were clear, no clouds, no snow, and no wind!! Yes we made the right choice waiting one more day to cross the pass. Time for breakfast.

The Annapurna Circuit trek, day #12
The Annapurna Circuit trek, day #12

Breakfast took some time but eventually we filled ourselves with a lot of hot food. One last warm cup of coffee and we were good to go.

Let’s go

Time to go! We decided again it was probably best to stay together: Safety in numbers. In total it was 9 of us and a guide. As we looked outside we noticed it snowed quite a lot during the night. The trail was covered in a thick layer of snow. To make things more challenging this layer was frozen due to the extreme cold. Meaning we would have to battle our way through a 40-50cm layer of snow and ice. It was going to be tough, but incredible nonetheless.

As we left the guesthouse we noticed some people already left in front of us. Which made it a bit easier for us since they already made a path through the snow and ice. As the sun was still hiding it was really cold, a bit of wind picked up making it extremely cold. Wearing all the clothes we had with us, we still felt cold. Better keep moving, haha.

Our path up to Thorong La Pass.
Our path up to Thorong La Pass.

Frozen faces on the way to Thorong La Pass.
Frozen faces on the way to Thorong La Pass.

Early morning on the Annapurna Circuit day #12.
Early morning on the Annapurna Circuit day #12.

We made very slow progress since we were walking in a line of people. Going steep up while freezing and freezing. Felt like we were not making any progress and it was taking forever.

The shelter

After 40 minutes we made it to a little shelter, we decided to go in and heat up a bit. Our hands and feet were hurting so badly, everything was just freezing. Especially Elisa was struggling a lot, suffering from Raynaud syndrome. Not a good combination in extreme colds. Maybe we didn’t have enough gear after all? But hey, nothing we could do about it. Just a little bit more until the pass. Only one way but up… all of us we’re gonna do this together. As soon as we got into the shelter it felt like our hands and feet were thawing. Which hurts like hell, like someone was stabbing 100 needles in our fingers.

As soon as we arrived at the shelter the 20 dollar guide we met yesterday starting making a fuss. Demanding we had to go lead the way, or else we had to pay him 20 dollars. Instead of working together he was being a royal &$^*. Decided to have none of it we left the shelter and continued. The Dutch couple was struggling a lot and decided to stay in the shelter a bit longer. So the seven of us decided to continue: Manual, Emily, Maria, Unai, Albert, Elisa en myself. We could do this!!

The Annapurna Circuit trek, day #12
The Annapurna Circuit trek.

As we left the shelter the sun was slowly rising. Not long after we felt the first sun on our faces. The warmth that came with it gave us that little push we needed. Let’s go, we are getting so close…

Breaking trail

There was no one in front of us now, so we had to break the trail. We had to battle our way through a mixture of ice and snow. At some points the snow reached up to my hip. Insane!!! Doing this above 5000m makes it even harder. Oxegen levels at 5500 are 50% of that at sea level.

We took turns in front, bashing, and plowing our way through the thick layer of icy snow. This was hard work, every step felt like an eternity. It felt like this was going to take forever and ever. But every step our excitement grew, because it meant that we were one step closer. I wanted to cry and quit so many times. But there was no option but forward.

It was becoming a team effort, the 7 of us. Bearly knowing each other, but we were a real team. Taking turns up front, motivating each other that we were almost there.

From High Camp to Thorong La Pass
From High Camp to Thorong La Pass

Thorong La Pass (5416m).

Finally we heard Albert saying, there it is! I can see the pass… we gave it one last push and made it to Thorong La Pass. We did it…. we made it. Overflowing with emotions we looked at the sign. This is what we have been working up to. We hugged, cried, laughed, and danced…. we finally made it. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done by far. Never before have I pushed myself so hard to reach one goal, sharing it with these incredible people!

We made it to Thorong La Pass (5416m).
We made it to Thorong La Pass (5416m).

Best team ever, going up to Thorong La Pass (5416m)
Best team ever, going up to Thorong La Pass (5416m)

The Annapurna Circuit trek, day #12
The Annapurna Circuit trek, day #12

This moment was incredible. We were on such a high of reaching our goal. In the end we walked up pretty quickly and arrived at the pass by 09:00. The views were incredible. The skies were clear and blue, what a sight!

Downhill

After taking some more pictures and a few minutes without moving we started to get very cold. From here it was still quite a walk towards Muktinath. 1600m down in altitude over 10km. The path after the pass was just steep downhill covered in snow and ice! Very happy that we bought a set of crampons we started skiing down!

From High Camp to Thorong La Pass on to Muktinak.
From High Camp to Thorong La Pass on to Muktinak.

From High Camp to Thorong La Pass on to Muktinak.
From High Camp to Thorong La Pass on to Muktinak.

What a view!!!
What a view!!!

Going down so much in such a short distance was brutal on the knees. But we were making progress quickly and the surroundings made the pain a bit less.

Muktinath

After a few hours we saw the first house in Muktinath. Relieved at this sight, we made our way into the village in search of a guesthouse.

Muktinath, Annapurna Circuit trek.
Muktinath, Annapurna Circuit trek.

Deciding were the stay we walked past a guesthouse and were amazed to see our little friend Bobby!!! The tiny little black dog we met in Manang and later followed us op to Thorong Phedi. This must be it, we have to stay here. When we walked into the guesthouse we ran into Jim, Ewan, and Gus who we said goodbye to in Thorong Phedi.

Very happy to be reunited we ordered a beer to celebrate the day!

Frostbite.

Unfortunately the feeling we had earlier like our hands and feet were thawing, was actually what was happening. Elisa’s feet got frostbitten pretty badly. Now at the time of writing 5 months later they are almost fully healed. But it shows how real it gets when you are high up in the mountains. We always thought frostbite to be something that happens when you are going on a proper expedition and get lost for a few days!

Because of the frostbite our trip on the Annapurna Circuit ended here. But what an adventure it was….. in the next blog we will write a bit about our way back to Pokhara, and how we use the hot springs in Tatopani to warm Elisa’s feet.

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