The Annapurna Circuit is probably the second most popular trek in Nepal after the Everest Base Camp, and after having long imagined an adventure in a remote location, local Red Rock resident Joe Hansen finally realised the dream. Here, he tells us about the trek!
Trekking Nepal had always been a dream for you as young man; what was it that attracted you to the idea?
When I was in my early twenties, living in a share house out the back of Byron, there was some one else in the house who used to do regular treks to Nepal. it sounded like such an adventure – even the name Kathmandu conjured up images of some far flung exotic location. I always loved the outdoors, so the idea stuck with me.
Fast forward twenty years, and you’ve finally achieved that dream. How did the opportunity come about?
My next door neighbour, Jeff Dowling has done a fair few walks around the the place, including Killimanjaro, Mt Kinabalu in Borneo and the El Camino in Spain, and we’ve done a few local treks together. He’d been to Nepal and attempted the Annapurna Circuit in January 2015, but the snow was too deep and he had to abandon it, so when he mentioned he had time to redo it in September, I cleared my schedule and jumped at the chance to go with him.
How did you prepare for the trip?
I’d only just got back from Lombok three weeks before departing to Nepal. We’d got caught up in the earthquake over there, and I was a bit rattled mentally, so I had to refocus – as Nepal is also not the safest place to be! My wife, Carmel, was also a bit hesitant about me going after what we’d just been through, but she said as long as I’d got my Will in order, it was all good! As far as physical training went, I did three pretty intensive weeks in the gym working on cardio to help with breathing at high altitude, and seeing how far I could push myself physically.
Where did you trek, and tell us about the conditions …
We did the Annapurna Circuit, probably the second most popular trek in Nepal after the Everest Base Camp. We started near a town called Besi Saha, and took ten days to reach the Pass at Thorong Phedi, altitude
5,416 m. We started out walking in lush subtropical rainforest, surrounded by massive waterfalls, rice paddies and a raging river and as we got higher, we passed through pine forests, arid desert-like areas and finally a rocky and barren, almost alien-like landscape, as we were there early in the season before there was much snow about. Of course, the Himalayan mountains were incredible. The Annapurna mountains are some of the tallest and most spectacular peaks you’ll see – Annapurna I is the tenth highest mountain in the world, so it’s pretty awesome being surrounded by such hugeness!
What was your favourite part of the trek?
Every day was awesome, but the part that will always live with me of course, is crossing the Pass – we started the day’s trek at 3:30am to beat the winds, and it was easily the hardest ascent of the trek. We had to make our way up almost 1,000 metres in elevation in super thin air, with our heads pounding from the onset of altitude sickness. It was like walking in quicksand; after three or four steps we’d be completely exhausted, but you’d find a way to keep going. Once we reached the Pass and saw the Tibetan Prayer flags waving at the top, the feeling of elation and emotion made it all worth it though, and to share it with one of my best mates and our incredible guide Nima was something I’ll never forget.
What did you love about the Nepalese people?
The Nepalese are such hardworking, generous and kind people – our guide, Nima, was an absolute legend, full of great stories of previous treks, knowledge of the mountains and a cheeky sense of humour. His favourite saying was “easy peasy”, usually after we’d just spent three hours hiking a near vertical cliff side path. What made the most impact though, was how hardworking the villagers are that live in the remote mountain communities – almost all the goods they have must be transported manually on their backs and hauled up the same paths we were struggling to climb up. We take it so for granted how easy our lives are back home.
We hear there might have been a bit more adventure in some parts than you anticipated?
Well, we were prepared for the hard trekking and the potential altitude sickness, but what we didn’t factor in was the “local bus” rides – our seven hour journey to the start of the trek took an arduous twelve hours, but not before our hugely overloaded bus almost slid off the edge of a treacherous cliff side road in wet and muddy conditions. As we lurched from side to side, wheels spinning and sliding closer to the 200 foot precipice, I could see all the way down to the raging river below. As I sucked in a few deep breaths, the wheels finally got traction – and off we went. “That’s the worst bit,” said the Nepalese guy beside me, “a bus fell down there last year”. Later on I Googled “most dangerous roads in the world”, and found that Nepalese mountain roads feature quite heavily!
Overall, what did you take away from your adventure?
It was an experience of a lifetime – the seed that was planted over twenty years ago finally came to fruition. I wish I’d done it a long time ago. It just goes to show that you shouldn’t put off stuff – just do it; life’s short!