A Rough Start on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

A Rough Start on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

A Rough Start on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

The grade is steep and the air is getting thin

I look ahead hoping to find some semblance of flat, level relief, but I see only more inclines leading ever higher into the tallest mountain range in the world. Moving forward is difficult, not just because of the steepness of the terrain but more so because each successive, near vertical step heightens the pain I feel in my knee. It’s an old injury I aggravated two years ago in Patagonia when I excitedly raced to the top viewpoint in Torres del Paine National Park. Since then I’ve tried long distance running, but my training was slowed and my usual competitive spirit was necessarily reduced to just hoping to finish. I should have known the Himalayas would do me no favors.

Morning Light

Morning Light near Jagat, Nepal

It’s not just my knee. The sweltering heat of the late morning sun and surprisingly high humidity adds much to the discomfort, as does my 50lb backpack filled mostly with photo gear. Back home in Chicago the pack seemed heavy but doable; out here it seems insane. This insanity is moderated only by the knowledge that local Nepalese people routinely carry far heavier packs through this very path. Sadly, the thought that someone else is probably carrying something heavier doesn’t make my pack feel any lighter. It does, however, provide impetus to keep my mouth shut about my own weight, and to just grin and bear it and give my best “Namaste!” as I smile past locals along the way.

There IS a single road here, a new treat for this part of the world. It might help alleviate the porters’ loads, but landslides and challenging weather conditions make driving on it questionable. Even on the best of days, the gravel road’s utility decreases severely as it penetrates deeper into the mountains. Thus the Annapurna Circuit today is still a vital lifeline to the many small towns scattered throughout the Himalayas. The porters who walk this lifeline daily, carrying anything from chickens to clothing to beer, are nothing short of incredible.

Porter

A porter and his 50kg (110lbs) pack

Aside from my heavy pack and bad knee (no doubt made even worse by the heavy pack), perhaps my biggest problem is it’s only day 3 of our 3 week trekking adventure, and I’m already sucking wind here at this paltry low altitude of 4500 feet. To clear Thorong La Pass, the highest and most challenging portion of the Circuit, I’ll have to walk another 50 miles over terrain which is almost never flat. Undulating between severe uphill gradients and steep drop offs, the net gain between here and there is a mind boggling 13000 feet.

I’m trying to imagine doing everything I’m doing now but with just a fraction of the air, and I’m coming up blank. I’ve never been above 9000′ outside of an airplane, and Thorong La pass is nearly twice as high at 17769′. I’m starting to wonder if the only way I’ll ever see it is with Wikipedia and Google images, but I quickly push that thought out of my mind. I’ve never been a tremendous athlete but I’m stubborn above all else. Knee issues be damned, I know that so long as I can put one foot in front of the other, one slow step at a time multiplied over the next 50 miles, I’ll make it. It’s a determined but somewhat bleak thought compared to last week when I left Chicago for Nepal.

Rain

Rain on the circuit at the hot and humid lower altitudes

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