Annapurna Circuit Day 10 - The Thorung La Pass


Four o'clock wake up knock, quick pack and then into breakfast. The large French party we were sharing the tea house with were just about to leave and other smaller groups had already gone, Jungba was clearly confident that we could get over the top quickly.

The first bit of news was that Paul had decided that he didn't want to travel.  Nima, the No 2 guide would be coming with us to the High Camp Hostel, about 400 metres up, and then return to take Paul down the valley.

We set off at about 5, it was very cold and, apart from the trickle of head torches climbing their way up the hill, it was pitch black.  The snow on the ground, which was fresh from the previous evening, made walking up the steep slope a lot harder than the day before.

Setting off in the dark

Nima was in front and set a really good pace, not too fast but just right to keep the whole group together.  It was cold and everyone wanted to keep going. After about 40 minutes we caught up with the French group who were going very slowly but seemed in great spirits.  About 40 minutes later we were approaching the High Camp Hostal.  Looking back we could clearly see Annapurna II which was covered in the pale pink of the early morning sunlight.
Looking back to Annapurna II

Stopping for a break revealed a few problems; the altitude and cold were getting to some people and both Carol and Tanya had   headaches.  Water bottles had frozen and at the top it was really windy. Christine was going OK but miserable, she had not been able to get her mittens back on after a toilet break and her hands, protected only by fleece liners were cold.

Jungba spotted some Yaks, realised they were on their way down and decided to have another go at getting Paul up the mountain.  This meant Jungba going back down again leaving us with Nima and Himelta.

It was now light but although the climb was not as steep it was in places a lot more difficult.  Shortly after leaving High Camp the trail climbs up along the side of a ravine, a walk which without snow would have been easy, but in these conditions was difficult.  A number of people, Phil, Noel and Chris in particular were really struggling and without Jungba you could sense both a collective and individual loss of confidence. 
Windswept and cold

A little tea hut half way between High Camp and the Pass
I was walking near the back and feeling OK but already the group was starting to divide between the stronger and weaker walkers. Carol, who had been nervous at the start was moving well as were Helen, Tanya and Nick.  
Trudging up

A climb like this is tough for everyone but I think it's much worse at the back.  It's much more difficult to get into a pace you're comfortable with because you're always comparing yourself with those at the front. Meanwhile those at the front, who might be finding the going tough, are gaining just a bit of momentum by comparing themselves to those at the back.  Strictly speaking the guides should hold the group together, making the ones at front wait for the ones at the back, but in my experience of trips like this rarely happens.
The group starts to spread out

After leaving a wind riddled tea hut half way between high camp and the pass, with Himelta  now leading, the group split up between the faster walkers: Christine, myself, Nick, Helen, Tanya, and Carol; and the slower walkers, Noel, Phil and Chris. Within twenty minutes the front group was 150 metres ahead of the group at the back and Noel and Chris were constantly falling.  Nick decided to go back and see if he could help in any way, to lend Chris his stick, and the rest of group waited and watched.  We saw Nick join the three at the back and at one point there were two walkers sat on the ground trying to get their breath back.
Approaching the pass

Eventually they waved their sticks and told us to press on and we were soon in the miserable little hovel at the pass sheltering from a bitter wind. About 15 minutes later the rest of the party arrives with Noel literally collapsing at the entrance to the hut. The hovel is too small to accommodate the whole party and other walkers so the earlier walkers clambered out over the late arrivals.  By the time Carol and I got out Himelta, the number 2 guide, was about 150 metres down the mountain with Christine, Tanya and Helen.  Carol wanted to get after them and I didn't disagree.
At the top hiding from the wind

To be honest I was enjoying rushing going downhill in the snow, I was in my element. The three women in front were perhaps the strongest personalities in the group and Himelta, supposed to be leading, was in reality following.  We had gone several hundred metres before we got together and all of us apart from Carol were enjoying ourselves.  I don't think it was a co-incidence but everyone, apart from Carol, were skiers and, in the fresh show, piling down the mountain, it was like skiing but without the skis.  We pressed on and Himelta did nothing to pull the lead party together.  There were lots of other people on the mountain, the visibility was good, but I didn't feel good as I on with Tanya, Christine and Helen and left Carol behind.
Descending at speed

After descending about 1200 metres we stopped at a hut and waited. About 90 minutes later a very fed up Carol  arrived, followed in short order by Noel, Nick, Nima, Paul (who had come up very quickly on the Yak) followed by Jungba, Phil and Chris.
The pass from the west side

Great weather but cold

Approaching Muktinath
So everyone had got over the pass, but it was a bruising experience. The walkers at the back felt that walkers at the front should not have left them while the walkers at the front didn't see why they should wait but still felt a bit guilty about having raced ahead. Everyone felt just a bit let down by the guides, particularly Himilti  who failed to keep the group together.

I don't think anyone thought that Jungba would succeed in getting Paul up the mountain but he did and the whole group was together again. Noel, Chris and Carol seemed a little despondent, feeling perhaps that they hadn't done as well as they had hoped. In reality everyone had done well, got to the noodle soup hut ahead of schedule, and come over the pass far faster than the French party who arrived safe and sound a couple of hours later. They had been walking for nearly 13 hours.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for excellent description. Did at any phase you felt in danger custom weather or exhaustion?
    My daughtter is planned to be at the pass on 25 of April.
    Thank you, Tamir

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    1. We had a bit of an 'adventure' going over Thorang La but it was a very mixed ability group, including a man well over 70. Annapurna is the safest trek in the Himalayas but I would say your daughter should go with a local guide and porters. If she does she will be fine, the Nepalese have the best high altitude guides in the world and will do anything to protect their clients.

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    2. Hi Tarmi, nice to meet you!
      Your daughter finished her trekking already? Did she trek by herself? Can you share more experiences?
      Thanks !
      Jess

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  2. Hi, Mr John, Nice to meet you. I'm a girl, 26 olds, from VietNam. I intend to trek Annapurna Circuit in April next year. I feel so lucky when i find your blog. Many information is really useful. I'm a solo backpacker. Is it Ok if i trek alone without guide or porter? Can i have more experiences? I never see snow before, i don't know how cold is it in April. How much is the temperature at Thorung La Pass in April? I really wanna do it by myself. Hope you will help me more information. Beside that, how much i have to spend for a day trekking? And which stuff i have to bring to trekk. Thank so much !
    Jess

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    1. Hi Jess

      I did see people trekking on their own but most people go with a guide and a porter. The cheapest way to do would be to book once you get to Kathmandu - there are lots of different agencies who do it. Although Annapurna is the one of the best developed treks in Nepal it's a high altitude trek and it is risky to go high on your own if you haven't done it before. The problem with walking high in the mountains is that you have to prepare for the worst to be safe. This includes the gear you need to take. It can be very cold and wet so you need to have the gear to keep you warm and dry although chances are you won't need it. If you haven't got hiking gear already, wait until you get to Kathmandu. The guide will advise you on what you need and where to get it - you can hire it as well. Sorry I'm not really up-to-date on prices but the cheapest way of doing it is to organise things in Kathmandu. Best of luck - John

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