Annapurna Circuit: Chame to Tilicho Lake

Trekking from Chame to Tilicho lake.

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Chame is where the trek really began for Filipe and I. The guidebook suggests a 6 to 7 hour day of walking to a village called Upper Pisang. On this stage of the trail there are two options, stay on the road, or gain some elevation and take the high route, which is a proper trekking trail and free of jeeps.

Prayer flags on a suspension bridge and our first little glimpse of the peaks above.

Most of the morning was uneventful, we crossed a few suspension bridges and walked the road for a bit. After lunch we crossed the river again and had our first big uphill stretch. Eventually we reached Upper Pisang which lived up to the hype in the guidebook. It’s a proper mountain village with narrow paths between stone buildings built into the hillside.

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The interior of Upper Pisang.

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Upper Pisang from further down the trail.

Since it was still early afternoon we had a cup of tea and decided to try to get to the next village. After a bit of a traverse and a long bridge we were at the base of a massive uphill section. I bet Filipe it could be done in 30 minutes, he said it would take at least an hour. After fifteen minutes of hiking too fast I stopped to talk to some familiar faces. The guide with one of the other guys from our jeep said it could be done in 30 and that we were just over halfway up. I figured that was enough to prove my point and took a nice long rest with them and let Filipe catch up. In the end it was well over an hour before we reached the village of Gheryu  at the top, although we did stop for tea about 90℅ of the way up.

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We were rewarded with some nice views mid climb.

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Random tea shop towards the top of the hill.

We finally rolled into  Gharyu in the late afternoon and were accosted by the village children. They kept grabbing our trekking poles, my solution was to hold mine sideways. They took this as an invitation to use them as monkey bars. I ended up swinging them around while they hung onto the sideways poles. When it came time for the littlest ones turn I went as easy as I could. His friend tried to help him by holding him up by the waist. The kid doing the holding stumbled and ended up suplexing his buddy into the rocky ground. Many tears were shed, and that was the last we saw of the kids. On the plus side, I got to tell everyone at our lodge that night that I made one if the village kids cry, which elicits fun reactions when spoken with no context.

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The one in red left in tears.

Gharyu ended up being my favorite village of the trek. We stayed at a lodge run by a mother and son and met many other trekkers we’d see again and again on the trail over the next couple weeks. I also got to try some of the 1 year old wheel of yak cheese our lodge owner was bringing to market in the morning. Aged yak cheese is delicious.

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Looking back at Gharyu on our hike to Manang.

After a restless nights sleep at 3670 meters we set out for the hub of Manang. We stopped in Bragha for lunch and got to try the local Sea buckthorn juice which is quite tasty and supposedly chocked full of vitamins (and sugar). After another 30 minutes of walking down the road we were in the town of Manang. We took the next day off and just hiked around the valley.

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The Gangapurna glacier as seen from Manang.

From Manang it was time to head towards Tilicho lake, the highest lake in the world. The hike to Tilicho base camp comes with many disclaimers in the guidebook. The last stretch of trail is cut through scree slopes susceptible to landslides. We stopped for lunch a few hours out from Manang and inquired about the condition of the trail. The boy working the lodge said the trail was fine and we decided to push through the last three hours to Tilicho base camp.

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The view back down the valley during the hike up to Tilicho.

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The view towards Tilicho. You can see the sections of scree the trail traverses in the center.

The trail was interesting, but after a few long hours we rolled into base camp at 4140 meters. Since the weather had been cloudy for the last week we made no plans to get up early for the hike to the lake. I woke up a little after six the next morning and let out a little shriek when I looked out the window. It was crystal clear out for the first time in the trek.

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It took a few hours, and might have been the most difficult stretch of hiking on the trek for myself, but we eventually made it to Tilicho lake. A little before the lake you crest a hill at over 5000 meters, or 16,400 feet. It was a lot of work to get up to the lake but completely worth it. I saw two avalanches and also saw a chunk of ice calve off the glacier and fall into the lake.

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Annapurna Circuit: Besi Sahar to Chame

Jeeping from Besi Sahar to Chame for a shotgun start on the Annapurna Circuit.

The Annapurna circuit is a 12 to 20 day hike around the Annapurna massif. The massif features one 8000 meter peak and many 7000 meter peaks. The traditional circuit runs counterclockwise from Besi Sahar to Birethani, but roads now penetrate  into both sides of the trek. The road construction has lead to many trekkers opting for shorter or alternate itineraries.

On the morning of September 19th Filipe and I travelled from Pokhara to Besi Sahar. Our plan was to find a jeep the next morning to bring us to Chame, which is 4 days into the traditional itinerary. We wanted to avoid walking on the road and leave more time for side trips at higher attitude.

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We splurged on our hotel the last night before trekking, $16 for the room, but it came with a nice pool.

The morning after arriving in Besi Sahar we walked along the main road and negotiated a ride to Chame. We figured it would be a 3 or 4 hour ride. Shortly into the jeep ride our driver informed us that it’s closer to 7 hours, and that’s on a good day.

The first few hours winding up through the Marshyangdi river valley were uncomfortable. We had seven people crammed into a jeep cab meant for six. After playing some musical chairs we found a few seating arrangements that were bearable. You might be wondering why we opted for a jeep at this point. The “road” to Manang is more of a 4WD track by Western standards. We spent a lot of time in first gear with four-wheel drive engaged.

We stopped for lunch after a few hours in Syange. While lunch was being cooked the locals pointed us up a huge set of stairs to a nearby waterfall, it was definitely worth the hike. The mist coming off the falls felt great after several sweaty, dusty, and bumpy hours in the jeep. In retrospect, this would be a great place to ditch the jeep and start trekking.

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The waterfall was a nice lunch time side trip.

Full of dal bhat and tea we hoped back into the jeep for the rest of the ride. We made it about 25 meters before getting stuck. The right rear wheel had slipped off the road and the Jeep was balanced precariously on an embankment. After some unsuccessful attempts at pulling it out with another jeep we started unloading all of the cargo that was being transported. With all of the rice, ramen, whisky, and kerosene tanks out of the bed the jeep quickly climbed out of its hole. By this time quite a traffic jam had developed behind us so we loaded up quickly and took off.

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Our unloaded jeep stuck in an unfortunate spot.

The road got even sketchier after lunch, with sheer cliffs and no guard rails becoming the norm. It didn’t seem to phase our driver who spent half the time texting or fiddling with the radio.

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Another waterfall along the road.

We eventually made it to a bridge where traffic was stopped. The jeeps coming up in the opposite direction couldn’t make it over the hill. We waited for close to an hour for them to finally succeeded. In this time, two of our jeep mate’s decided they had had enough. They paid the full fare and started walking. I was excited for a minute, thinking there would finally be breathing room in the backseat. My hopes were quickly dashed when the two locals who had ridden on the back bumper all day hopped in.

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The jeeps coming from this direction couldn’t make it up the hill to the left.

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If you look closely you can see how the road is cut into the rock.

In the end we arrived in Chame only a little worse for the wear. We found a teahouse across the river from the main city. An hour and forty minutes after ordering dinner I started to become concerned that they had forgotten my order. The other trekkers informed me that this was normal, most of the lodges on the trek make all the food from scratch. It was worth the wait, the momo I ordered was delicious. After dinner we soaked in the hotsprings below our lodge, which felt wonderful after the gruelling Jeep ride.