It is the biggest day on the Annapurna Circuit, trekking from High Camp to Muktinath via Thorong La Pass. This takes over 13 hours and a distance of 15 kilometers. It is a steep climb and descent resulting in one of the most physically challenging days in my life!
It is the twelfth day on the Annapurna Circuit and it will be the longest and hardest 24 hours of our lives. Day twelve will take us from High Camp to Thorong La Pass, Thorong La Pass to Charabu and Charabu to Muktinath. The total journey from High Camp to Muktinath consists of 15 kilometers of hiking over 13 hours and an elevation increase of 566 meters then an elevation decrease of 1616 meters.
Though, I will go through my journey from High Camp to Muktinath in detail. That way, if you are planning your own Annapurna Circuit trek you will know exactly what to expect on day twelve.
Trekking High Camp To Muktinath Over Thorong La Pass On The Annapurna Circuit
- Overview Of The Journey: High Camp to Muktinath
- High Camp to Thorong La Pass
- Thorong La Pass
- Thorong La Pass to Charabu
- Charabu to Muktinath
Overview Of The Journey
High Camp (4850m) to Thorong La Pass (5416m): 5 km hike which takes 4 hours
Thorong La Pass (5416m) to Charabu (4230m): 6 km hike which takes 6 hours
Charabu (4230m) to Muktinath (3800m): 4 km hike which takes 3 hours
Waking Up In High Camp
Waking up in darkness it is 5.30am, though we will certainly be needing an early start on the trail today. Luckily for us, the snow from last night never settled on the ground at High Camp. Perfect for me as I am just trekking in sneakers, no fancy waterproof hiking boots here.
Down at the common room, we prepare for the day with a big breakfast. It’s Tibetan bread with peanut butter which should hopefully give me a little bit more energy at this early hour of the morning.
Managing to pack our bags up we walk outside and begin the ascent to Thorong La Pass, hiking from High Camp to Muktinath. Its 6.30am and the weather is looking fairly clear at the moment. There are not many clouds in the sky as the sun begins to rise over the mountain peaks.
High Camp To Thorong La Pass
Heading up away from High Camp I am feeling a lot better today than I was yesterday morning. The trail ascends gently behind our lodges until they are completely out of view, blocked by the endless rocky mountains.
About half an hour through the climb large patches of snow start forming on the ground and I definitely do not have the correct footwear on for this. Luckily there are already shoe imprints which I stand in to prevent dampness soaking my feet. Frostbite is a real threat up here, especially on the portion between High Camp and Muktinath. It’s important to keep your extremities warm and keep moving. We cross over a little iron bridge and see a glacier coming down from a nearby mountainside.
Soon approaches a steep climb up a ridge. I take plenty of breathers, concentrating on keeping my heart rate low to avoid any extra exhaustion. On top of the ridge is a small tea house said to be sitting at 5000 meters. We stop for a little breather, buying a chocolate bar while James asks to use the bathroom. The gentlemen in charge hesitantly shows him out back. I later find out the toilet is simply a shed with a concrete floor and a literal pile of everyone’s leftovers. There is no hole and no squatty potty, you are just meant to go straight on the ground.
The trail is not too steep after reaching the ridge. Though there are dark clouds sneaking in on our right and the temperature is dropping. With this and the freezing wind chill, no doubt this is the coldest I have ever been in my life. I stop momentarily, putting on every single layer I brought up the trail. That sunshiny morning we had back at High Camp has now left us.
We zigzag endlessly following the trail, while the dealing with the overwhelming feeling of momentary excitement due to the numerous false passes. This goes on for what feels like hours while mountain sickness slowly starts to come over me. At 5416 meters the oxygen levels here are less than half of what they are at sea level. A dull headache and nausea soon becomes overwhelming as I am needing to stop every couple of minutes to breathe. I cannot prevent myself from vomiting my breakfast onto the ground every 30 meters and once that is over, I start dry heaving.
At any other place along the Annapurna Circuit, I would have descended to a lower altitude to avoid developing a pulmonary edema or a high altitude cerebral edema. Though I knew we are so close to Thorong La Pass and from there it would be a steep descent into Muktinath. It would be the quickest way to get down other than getting a helicopter back to Kathmandu. At that moment I see hundreds of prayer flags blowing in the breeze and I can’t help but cry.
Arriving At Thorong La Pass
It’s 11.30am when we arrive at Thorong La Pass. No one else is around and the pitch silence is nearly an eery feeling. It’s strange arriving at your goal which has taken nearly two weeks and it is completely abandoned. I heard stories about trekkers sharing a beer and exchanging stories. Though, obviously, that was not going to happen today.
The teashop which usually serves tea, noodle soup and dal baht is boarded up. In all honesty, the arrival at Thorong La Pass is quite anticlimactic as this place feels like a ghost town. Even though this is the highest trekking pass in the world and the highlight of the Annapurna Circuit, the journey to get here has been my favorite.
We take some obligatory photos against the brass plate to celebrate our success. Watching the nearby grey clouds roll closer over the nearby mountains it feels like we are nearly in a race against the weather. Not willing to risk getting stuck in a snow storm we decide to not stick around and rather to descend.
Thorong La Pass To Charabu
From our descent from Thorong La Pass the first hour and a half is a steady descent. Though, that is good as I am trying to descend as fast as I can. Unfortunately, the snow does slow us down in places. We follow black markers which indicate which path to follow down the side of the mountain.
The land around us is barren, just hundred of rocks making up the ground. We zigzag slowly down the mountain. It is a difficult descent as you try to avoid slipping on the loose rocks. Unfortunately, I start feeling sharp pains from my knee up the side of my leg. Each time I need to bend it I am in excruciating pain.
I hobble down the trail, step by step, so lucky to have my trekking poles. We stop for a break at one of the sheds in a large paddock. James uses the ‘bathroom’ which is similar to the one earlier in the day and I sit down to eat a Snickers. At this stage a handful of trekkers have passed us, seemingly floating down with ease.
The frustration is overwhelming as I watch people pass. Even a gentleman around 60 years old wearing sandals walks past us with a wooden stick used as a trekking pole. I just keep going, pushing through the tears and pain.
It takes me over 1 hour to walk 500 meters. Between Thorong La Pass and Muktinath there is one small town which we will have to stay at. My knee has now completely locked up. I am not able to bend it in the slightest without feeling one of the worst pains I have ever felt in my entire life washing over me.
The track is extremely steep in parts and covered in loose stones, not making for the best situation. I slip down the trail numerous times, a wave of shock comes over me preparing to feel the rocks hitting my backside, though luckily the trekking poles catch my fall. We watch as the small village of Charabu gets closer and closer. Though it is now 4pm, darkness will be washing over the valley in a couple hours and we are still some distance away.
I feel like giving up. Oftentimes locals will be up on the trail with their horses offering rides to trekkers for exorbitant prices. I would happily pay all I have in this moment. Though, its the month of May, one of the quieter times on the Annapurna Circuit and there are no such people around.
The last kilometer is the hardest. I am so close, but so far and my other knee has begun to lock up leaving me walking like an idiot with tears streaming down my face. Now when the ground slips out below me I cannot steady myself on the other leg and completely fall over. This happens at least 5 times over the last kilometer and James rushes over to help me up repeatedly. I even manage to snap one of my trekking poles attempting to catch myself and putting too much weight on it.
With only a couple hundred meters left until Charabu, James goes off to find us a room for the night. I wander in there slowly, greeted by a Nepali lady with a huge smile. She lets me know her lodge is full but gives me a chair so I can sit down and wait for James.
Staying In Charabu
I hobble between the five lodges which call the village of Charabu home. This is where people hiking the Annapurna Circuit from Muktinath to High Camp will stay one night to help acclimatize at 4200 meters. The lodges here are nothing special, though in such situations, or when you are running out of daylight they are the only option.
The room costs us $2.60 / 300NRS for the night. It is basic with concrete walls, two wooden single beds, and plastic wrapped around one half of the room to avoid scuff marks. It may have been one of the most basic, but it will do for one night.
The local Nepali lady who owns this lodge happily sets us up dinner outside our room as I cannot bend my legs to climb the stairs. She brings in a plastic table and stacks up mattresses, creating a bench for us to sit on. I ask for my bottle to be filled with boiled water so I can place it on my knees to hopefully stop them being locked up.
For dinner we both have chow mein. Though, I am not hungry so James eats my portion as well. Straight after we head to bed and I balance the hot bottle on my knees. Eventually, after five hours I wake up and now can bend my knees. I rush to the bathroom as it means I can now use the squat toilet semi-comfortably. Since we left High Camp this morning I have not been able to use the bathroom because of my knees and had been holding on since the afternoon. Though, when you are in that much pain using the bathroom is the last thing you are thinking about.
Charabu To Muktinath
Waking up in Charabu the first thing I hear is James rushing to the bathroom and vomiting in the toilet. I am feeling better this morning, but it is obvious James is not. I give him some antinausea pills before heading upstairs to the common room for breakfast.
Ordering eggs and chapati I relax in the sunshine streaming through the window. The rooms downstairs in this lodge might be basic, but the common room is beautiful and made completely of wood. I give James some electrolyte powder mixed with boiled water to see if that will give him some energy. Though, he vomits it straight back up.
James wants to go back and sleep longer. He is determined to make it to Muktinath today, even in his current state. Though, he just wants a few more hours sleep to see if he can build up his strength.
At 12pm we pack up our bags and begin the trek to Muktinath. James is still in a state and there is a deep pain in my knees with each step I take. Luckily, we are both in bad places so walk at a similar pace down the rocky paths. The first portion of the trail is rather steep, but then it flattens out into fields.
Coming across a herd of yak nearby a suspension bridge we spot the first signs of Muktinath. It is a rather large, sprawling village, though, unfortunately for us, the lodges are quite far through it.
We follow the path up and down to the village of Muktinath. Walking through temple areas we watch those worshippings make their way past us on horseback. Muktinath has been an important place for pilgrims over the past 3000 years. There is a constant whirl of worshippers, though we head onwards determined to make it to the lodges.
Staying In Muktinath
We check into the first lodge we spot called Path Of Dreams Hotel. The room costs us $4.40 / 500NRS which is expensive on the Annapurna Circuit. Though, it includes an attached bathroom with a hot shower, double bed in a massive room, free WiFi, western toilet and plenty of power sockets in the room for us to use.
We purchase a can of juice from reception and start unpacking our bags. This is the nicest place we have stayed in a long time and we are so happy to have finally made it from High Camp to Muktinath.
We take turns warming ourselves in the hot shower washing all the dirt off our bodies. It has been over a week since either of us has showered and when you are walking every day this is not a good combination. I scrub myself raw until the ‘tan’ I had developed has disappeared. Sprawling out in the sunshine I dry off enjoying the views across the valley to a nearby village.
Downstairs in the common room we play cards and order dinner. For me tonight it is pizza and french fries with juice. Though, James is still not feeling the best and just has an apple juice to try and settle his stomach some more.
No matter how much you plan traveling and even trekking you have always got to be willing to forfeit your plans and go with the flow. This is even more important when you are traveling with someone else and no longer just have to worry about your own wellbeing, but theirs as well.
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