The Annapurna Sanctuary trek is one of the most accessible and easy hikes in Nepal and offers some incredible views of Macchupuccare and the South Face of the ever formidable Annapurna – the most dangerous mountain on earth. If you aren’t afraid of getting eaten alive by leaches or taking the many thousands of stone steps to the amphitheatre, then this 5 days hike is just the thing. Just about anyone can do this hike as it isn’t technical but we warned, the stairs are a thigh burner. Just when you get to the top of one set you look up the valley and see a dip before another stair rise once more. It’s heartbreaking but once you reach the end, your suffering will be replaced with amazement when you get to glimpse an almost 4000m high south face of Annapurna right there in front of you.
“Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.”
The Annapurna trek starts at around 1400 metres asl and the trail cuts its way up and down the valley floor before you finally get out of the ever stifling and sticky jungle and into the alpine. The jungle is lush and at the small village of Jhinu you’ll be rewarded with some amazing hot springs. The local villagers have built 2 stone natural baths that overlook mighty river and out into the jungle. It’s the perfect place to rejuvenate after the long days in the jungle.
As the trail continues porters ferry loads up the steep stairs and you wonder how they can even carry such heavy goods, often with just a strap around their heads. Many years of practise has built strong men and you can see it by how unfazed they are when they are covered in blood from the many leech bites.
After 3 days in the jungle, Machapuchare Base Camp is a welcomed sight and you feel like you’re in the big mountains now. Perched at 3100 metres, the air is cold and fresh, the cloud lowers to turn everything white and makes the visibility just 20 or 30 metres. The fire in the small guest house is a welcomed and warms the hands and toes – outside is freezing. Machapuchare towers above to the east and is the kind of landmark for the whole trip. It’s one of those iconic mountains, much like the Matterhorn that pierces the sky and naturally draws people to it. The mountain was attempted in 1957 by a British team that stopped just 150 metres shy of the summit and has been off limits ever since
The last day from MBC to the Annapurna Base is by far the highlight of the trip. The grassy meadows slope gently upwards and you’re legs are thankful for the gentle path after the previous few days of stoney steps. The 4am start is cold, but after 10 minutes on the trail your body warms up and eyes adjust to the majesty around you. Hiunchuli, Annapurna 3 and Machapucahre all create a massive pit and you’re right in the middle staring up in admiration.
The warm glow of the sun begins to light up valley and seeing the yellow light reflect off the massive South Face of Annapurna bought a huge smile to my face. I’ve loved mountaineering for as long as I can remember and to think of all the mountaineering history on that South Face is something of deep meaning for me. A group of climbers from Switzerland are calling this their basecamp and will attempt the might South Face in the coming weeks. Out of their group of 6 climbers the odds are stacked that 2 of them will lose their lives on this trip, a statistic that makes you think, is it really that worth it?
Shortly after sunrise and a customary Nepali tea we are back down the valley towards MBC and then further on to a smaller village. We pass a snow cave along the way that we’ve somehow missed. A big avalanche has come down off Hiunchuli and over the massive 1000 metre high cliff right next to the path. Inside, a small cave has melted away and we’ve somehow missed this on our way up – probably from feeling the effects of altitude and contending with all those stairs. We descend back into the jungle and it doesn’t take long before our blood thirsty friends are back at us. It’s hard to look down and see a leech on you and not want to rip it off. When you do the blood fails to coagulate and you find yourself bleeding for hours and unable to stop it.
We spend the final night in a lovely guest house owned by a local Nepali family. Their hospitality and friendliness is what keeps me coming back to this amazing country and after 5 times, I’m still as hooked as I was the first time I came here.