Annapurna Circuit | Nepal

We spent the winter holidays hiking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. We walked over 160 miles and 42,000 feet in 15 days. Doing the trek in December/January is not the norm. Though it can be colder and you might find yourself hiking in snow over ThorlungLa Pass, the low season offers two great benefits: 1) very few tourists and 2) consistently clear, blue skies that offer amazing views of the mountains.

We loved feeling like we had the trail to ourselves and that, on most nights, we were the only tourists in town. So, we would highly recommend hiking the circuit in winter. Just be sure to bring some warm gear for the colder nights/mornings and some good shoes and extra socks in case you find yourself trudging through snow over the pass.

One tourist, who came over ThorlungLa Pass a day or so behind us, reportedly got frostbit on some of his fingers. In our opinion, this is totally avoidable as long as you stay on top of keeping your appendages warm rather than ignoring them. We had a few packs of hand warmers just in case.

Video of our Annapurna Circuit Hike

Watch a 10-minute video montage of our trip to get a sense of the scenery, guest houses, and life on the trail.

Annapurna Trek Video Annapurna Circuit | Nepal

Route and GPS tracks for the Annapurna Circuit

For a guidebook, we bought the Annapurna: Trekking Map and Complete Guide Annapurna Circuit | Nepal from one of the many book & map stores in Katmandu. It was excellent and apparently had better information than the Lonely Planet (according to a handful of hikers who we lent it to). It also came with a map, but it was only 1:125,000, so we bought a more detailed map instead.

As far as our route, here are the details:

  • Flew into Katmandu (spent 3 days getting ready)
  • Hired a taxi ($90) to get dropped off at the start (Besi Sahar)
  • Hiked the normal counterclockwise circuit with the following exceptions:
    • Took the high route between Pisang and Mungji
    • Day hike up to Ice Lake from Mungji
    • Went from Ranipauwa to Johnsom via Lupra (no Khingar)
    • Day hike up to Dhaulagir Icefall Viewpoint
    • Tatopani to Naya Pul via Ghorepani
  • Hired a taxi from Naya Pul to Pokahara (~$15)
  • Caught a flight from Pokhara back to Katmandu

We really enjoyed our route and would highly recommend it. The two day hikes were pretty much straight up and back, so be prepared to take it slow on the way back down to save your knees.

You can download our GPS tracks for the Annapurna Circuit and the side trips. Keep in mind that we made a few deviations from the standard route (see above). The files are broken up into 15 track files that have 500 points each (one for each day of our trip) and one “total” file that combines them. Annapurna Circuit GPX Track files

Gear for the Annapurna Circuit

We did the trip without any porters or a guide. If you don’t mind carrying 20 pounds on your back and you have some sense of direction, you’ll be fine without them.

Sleeping bags

We had 20 and 30-degree (Fahrenheit) bags, slept with our thermal underwear and down jackets on, and were fine. Something like these bags would work: Sierra Designs Echo Annapurna Circuit | Nepal or  MontBell UL. We also carried Therm-a-Rests, but never needed to use them.

Down jackets

These worked really well for us: Marmot Zeus and Marmot Venus. Annapurna Circuit | Nepal

Miscellaneous

Here are some other things that we were glad that we had:

 

If you are thinking about hiking the Annapurna Circuit in the winter, feel free to post a question.

40 Responses to Annapurna Circuit | Nepal
  1. Jon
    December 9, 2014 | 11:09 pm

    This is a great read.

    Would it be madness to trek in December with out a sleeping bag? I guess blanket availability at this time of year is not an issue, but would 2-3 blankets keep you warm enough (I sleep warm and not adverse to sleeping in my clothes / down jacket)?

    Thanks

    Jon

    • Forest Baker
      December 10, 2014 | 10:46 pm

      Hi Jon,

      That’s an interesting thought. I’m pretty sure the locals are just using blankets, so why not. :)

      I think we had access to multiple blankets every night. Given that it would be low season, I’m pretty sure you would be able to get 3 or more thick blankets each night. With thermal underwear, a down jacket, and a wool hat, you’d probably be fine. The coldest night was just before going over the pass – probably in the high 20′s F. At that altitude, I didn’t sleep much anyway, so maybe not a big issue if you a bit chilly that night.

      In the end, a down sleeping bag isn’t much to carry. I’d rather be sure I’m warm and get decent sleep each night rather than have a lighter pack.

      Best of luck with whatever approach you take.

      Forest

  2. Kassie
    June 4, 2014 | 4:39 am

    I’ve written a blog on what to wear for the Annapurna Circuit in the winter. It’s a great time to go despite what the guidebooks say.

    http://www.wanderlustfp.com/survive-annapurna-winter/

    • Forest Baker
      June 4, 2014 | 6:28 pm

      Nice Kassie! That’s a very thorough guide on what gear to use for doing the circuit in the winter.

  3. pat
    February 12, 2014 | 2:44 am

    Thank u so much for that overview! We are going there in a few days. One question: did you have crampons and would you consider them necessary since route could be full of frozen slippery snow.

    • Forest Baker
      February 12, 2014 | 10:33 am

      Hi Pat – we didn’t bring crampons. We went in Decembers and assumed that the trail would either be clear, fresh snow, or trampled snow. And if things looked nasty, we’d wait a day or two. I suppose it’s possible, but we didn’t plan for icy conditions. I think snow is more likely in February, so packing crampons might be a good idea. If you don’t have time to wait out bad conditions and don’t mind the extra weight, then I’d bring them. Technology might have changed, but crampons used to require a much stiffer shoe than the ones we hiked in. Keep that in mind. Have a great time!

  4. Matt Gedge
    December 21, 2013 | 10:00 am

    Thanks for the post and all the tips.
    I will be trekking from 10th February 2014,contemplating the Annapurna Circuit. I’ve read lots of comments about trekking in Dec and Jan but very little on Feb. Do you know if Feb is a more difficult month to trek in terms of low temperature and possibility of avalanche?

    • Forest Baker
      December 23, 2013 | 12:53 am

      Hi Matt,

      Sorry, I didn’t do any research on trekking in February. Hopefully, someone else might be able to chime in with some helpful info.

      Forest

  5. Lindsay
    November 18, 2013 | 4:22 am

    Did you have down pants, gaitors, yak tracks or snowshoes? I’m just wondering about gear for snow.

    • fbaker
      November 26, 2013 | 9:52 pm

      We just had gators and Gore-tex socks. I’ve listed everything we wore the day we went over the pass in my previous comment.

  6. Jeff
    October 15, 2013 | 5:19 pm

    What kind of packs did you guys use? We’re starting mid-December with a similar gear list – debating between a 45 L pack or something larger.. Thanks!

    • fbaker
      October 17, 2013 | 9:26 am

      In short, I think a 45 L backpack would work just fine.

      I used a Gregory Reality (70 L) and my wife had a smaller, no-name bag that we bought in Katmandu. Probably around 35 L. (It started falling apart before we finished the trek.)

      I carried sleeping pads for me and my wife (inside my backpack), but we never used them. If I did it again, I wouldn’t bring those and I would use a smaller backpack. I think a 45 L would be plenty of room for all your stuff.

  7. Eliah Gilfenbaum
    September 16, 2013 | 11:54 am

    thanks all for the great info. I’m planning on doing the circuit in December: the only piece that potentially concerns me is weather on the pass, which i’ll be crossing in mid-december.

    did you hear stories of the pass being closed for days in december? i can handle 6″ of snow, but much more might make things impassable. when the pass does close, how long is it typically for? it might help me to decide whether to go clockwise vs. counterclockwise, or whether i fly to jomsom and just do have the circuit combined with annapurna base camp.

    Thanks!

    • fbaker
      September 16, 2013 | 8:44 pm

      We did hear that there is potential for the pass to have too much snow to be safe. There are a few steeper slopes at the beginning of the climb that could be prone to avalanches. However, according to several sources, it seems that big snow storms are not likely until late January. That’s obviously not a guarantee that you will have beautiful weather in December.

      My sense is that if the pass gets too much snow, you would just stay at the last tea houses for another day (or two) until it was OK to go over. Our approach was to budget an extra day or two in case this happened. We knew we could make up for the lost time, if we had to, by taking a bus between towns on the other side.

      Furthermore, if the conditions were sketchy, we would have waited for a guide and their group to go first (break trail and demonstrate that it was OK). We probably came across a guide leading a small group of tourists about every other day, so you probably wouldn’t have to wait for more than a day or so. They seemed more aggressive about getting over the pass, regardless of conditions and whether or not their clients had fully acclimated.

  8. Rob
    April 4, 2013 | 10:41 pm

    Hi Looks Really good time of year to do the trek. So much so one that its inspired us to do the trek this December/January! Do you have a gear list of what you took? We’ve gathered info from others but to get it from someone who’s done the same time as us would be a big help!! How cold does it get in the teahouses at night when your high up?
    Thanks in advance for any help you can give
    Rob

    • fbaker
      April 15, 2013 | 12:33 am

      Hi Rob,

      First, I’m really sorry it took me over a week to respond to your post. My excuse is that you caught me in the middle of moving back to the US from Mexico and I had to rush off for a 4-day mountain bike race.
      You’ve obviously got some time before you head out for your winter trek, but I’ll look on my old hard drive and see if I have a spreadsheet with our gear list. If I can’t find one, I’ll make a Google doc with what I can remember/recommend.
      As we got closer to the pass, it got down into the 20′s on a couple of nights. The owners will typically burn a fire in the dinning room at night during dinner and in the morning during breakfast. Your rooms will not be well insulated. My wife is pretty sensitive to the cold, so we threw extra blankets on top of her sleeping bag and she would take a bottle of boiled water with her into her sleeping bag at night. She was fine and I slept fine. It’s when you head out in the morning, while the mountains are still casting a shadow over the trail, is when you’ll have the most difficult time with the cold. You just need to layer up and get your body moving.
      I’ll get back to you about a packing list.

      • Rob
        April 19, 2013 | 1:06 am

        Thanks very much for the advice mate. We’ll take that on board. If you can manage to locate a list it would be a help but no probs if not.
        Thanks again
        Rob

      • Rob
        August 31, 2013 | 2:24 pm

        Hi Mate
        Just a quick question on drinking water on the trek. Is it readily available? Are we best taking a couple of nalgenes and getting them full of boiling water at night then having them as drinking water the next day. We have camelbaks/bladders and was wondering whether its worth taking them as we cant add boiling water to them. Would you advise to treat all water with tablets first?
        Thanks in advance

        • fbaker
          September 2, 2013 | 1:12 pm

          We typically carried a 100oz camel back bladder, one nalgene bottle, and one sig bottle. It worked just fine for us. We never ran out of water even though we were putting in pretty full days of hiking. Furthermore, when we stopped for lunch at a tea house, we would order a whole pot of tea (not just individual cups). We forced ourselves to finish the entire pot to ensure that we stayed hydrated, which is very important given the altitude you will be hiking at. We saw plenty of people get various degrees of altitude sickness and it was pretty obvious that it was because of dehydration. Drink and then drink some more!

          Make sure your water is easily accessible when you are hiking. Otherwise, you won’t drink enough. That’s why I like a camel back with a hose.

          Drinking water is widely available. We never treated any water; we always got it from tea houses. One time, we bought water from the community drinking water program (a system where the village has a large tank of boiled/treated water and sells it to trekkers, but the water stations were almost always closed in the towns we passed through. It was convenient to just get water from the tea houses.

          When you eat or stay at a tea house, just let them know that you would like water for drinking. They would boil water and let it cool down, so by the time we finished our meal, we were ready to fill our bladder and bottles. My wife did like putting a sig bottle filled with hot water under the covers when she went to bed.

          • Rob
            October 28, 2013 | 2:41 pm

            Hi
            We’re leaving for Nepal in less than 10 weeks and I’m starting to get a little anxious about the pass!! Can you remember what clothing you both wore for ‘pass’ day? I’ve read a blog from some guy who encountered a pretty scarey ‘pass’ day last January and its certainly gave us food for thought! The way he describes it…full down suits and the like will be needed.
            As I’m doing it with my wife like yourself…what kind of time did it take you to cross the pass and get down to Muktinath. Again a big thanks for any advise you can give, its really appreciated
            Rob

          • fbaker
            November 16, 2013 | 3:23 pm

            Hi Rob,

            Below, I’ve listed out what we wore going over the pass. At minute 4:30 in our video, you can see us head out in the early morning to go over the pass and see what we wore.

            It was below freezing that morning, but really not that bad, especially since you were hiking and creating heat. The tips of my fingers on one of my hands got cold. I think I had my hiking pole strap too tight. I put a heat packet in my glove and my fingers were happy. My wife has worse circulation, but, surprisingly, her appendages were fine and she didn’t need any heat packs.

            Me: Warm socks, low-top hiking shoes, gators, thermal bottoms (maybe 2 pair), nylon zip-off pants, thermal top, synthetic t-shirt, thin synthetic pullover layer, down jacket, fleece glove liners, over mittens, neck gator, wool beanie. I had a rain jacket that I didn’t put on until I got cold hanging out at the top.

            My wife: 2 pairs of socks (one thick, one liner), low-top hiking shoes, gators, thermal bottoms, nylon tights, synthetic pants, two thermal tops, thin synthetic pullover layer, down jacket, rain jacket, fleece glove liners, over mittens, neck gator, wool beanie.

    • Chinmay Poojary
      July 30, 2013 | 12:14 pm

      Hi rob I and my girlfriend are also doin annapoorna circuit in December probably will start on dec 8/9… my email Id is chinmay.pjry@gmail.com mail me maybe could travel together…

      • Rob
        August 31, 2013 | 2:26 pm

        Hi
        We’re going a little later than first thought. We plan to set off on the 8/9th Jan now
        Good luck with the trek!
        Rob

  9. Dave Walsh
    October 6, 2012 | 5:25 pm

    Hello,thinking of doing this trek mid January and just wondering how much on average acommodation was per night along the circuit?

    • fbaker
      October 10, 2012 | 3:13 pm

      Trying to remember…I think that we typically paid around something like $12 per night for our own room (there were 2 of us). It was definitely cheap and there was plenty of vacancy. In fact, on several nights, we were the only tourists in town. So, the owners will be motivated to give you a competitive price. And you can relax, check out a few places, and not feel like you have to take the fist place you come upon. The owners make more money on the meals, so they don’t really jack up room prices. The meals are very affordable too and are very filling.

      • Sarah
        March 23, 2013 | 9:13 am

        You can take a bus from Kathmandu to Besisahar for $5. Lodges should only cost $2-$3 per person per night as well for a two-person room. $4 if you want a personal shower/toilet room.

        • fbaker
          March 24, 2013 | 1:40 pm

          Sarah – Thanks for providing the prices!

  10. lance
    August 25, 2012 | 10:14 pm

    oops. nevermind. downloaded just fine. thanks.

  11. lance
    August 25, 2012 | 10:12 pm

    i tried going to your gpx files, but the page didn’t load. do you have the files or a link i can get to? thanks.

  12. Jacob
    April 20, 2012 | 6:12 pm

    When is the best time to do the trek? I’m am currently 22 and am looking to do the Circuit in 2013. Gear list? I wear a size 15 shoe, so boots are already tough to find. Any help and input is greatly appreciated!!!

    Thanks,
    Jacob

    • fbaker
      May 28, 2012 | 6:14 pm

      Hi Jacob,

      The Lonely Planet ThornTree forum has plenty of info on best times to do the hike. The benefit of winter are clear skies and few tourists. The downside is the cold and possible snow on the pass. I don’t mind the cold, so I’m really glad we hiked it in the winter.

      We hiked with sturdy, low-top shoes and brought warm socks, gortex socks, and gators. We were fine even when we hiked through 6″ of snow one day. I think heavy boots would be overkill.

      Have a great time,

      Forest

  13. Robert Hennigar
    October 19, 2011 | 11:43 am

    My son and I are planning on doing this trek in December of this year. What kind of footwear do you recommend? I was contemplating wearing light hiking shoes and thinking combined with snow gaitors might be enough for Thorong La, but I’m concerned about them being warm enough. On the flip side, I dread wearing hiking boots that are overkill for the rest of the trip.

    • fbaker
      October 19, 2011 | 4:46 pm

      Robert,

      We used sturdy low-top hiking shoes and brought gators in case we hit snow. We were happy with our choice. I’d leave the heavy boots at home. We hiked in snow on two different days (nothing over 6 inches) and were fine. Just bring an extra pair of socks (or two) in case you hit wet or snowy conditions for several days in a row. You want to minimize hiking in wet socks.

      Bring a couple heat packs too. My wife doesn’t have great circulation, so she stuffed a pack near her toes when we headed out over the pass. I ended up using one too because my fingers were getting cold.

      December is a great time to do the trek. You and your son are going to have a great trip.

      Forest

  14. mathieu van rijswick
    October 4, 2011 | 12:21 pm

    Hi Forest, Just viewed your Annapurna video. I was happy to see
    that many sights still look as in 1977 on our way to climb
    Annapurna-I from the north (we went Kali Gandaki up). Thanks!
    Mathieu van Rijswick – NL

    • fbaker
      October 9, 2011 | 11:25 am

      Mathieu, You climbed Annapurna-I in 1977! Although the scenery
      hasn’t changed all that much, I’m sure our journeys were quite
      different from each other. I’m sure mine was any easy stroll in the
      woods compared to yours. Cheers!

  15. Cjell Money
    August 14, 2011 | 6:05 pm

    Took me a little while to find this but i finally did. Still in
    sinapore? hope things are great for you two. Felt almost like an
    accomplishment finishing the the GDMBR video. Enjoyed it more than
    Ride the Divide…way less crying. After leaving you two I sold the
    motorbike in khatmandu. Bought an old giant. Rode it back to North
    India. Went crazy riding alone in India. Rerouted to Kolkata. Flew
    to Bangkok. Loved riding through thailand. Sold the bike. Flew to
    indo. Surfed sumatra for a month. NY. MN. Another short tour back
    to CO. Back in Vail. Gearing up for a TD next year and maybe even a
    ride this year. Hope you’re well you two. See you round. Holler if
    you ever find yourself in CO. See ya.

  16. Brian Traughber
    February 24, 2011 | 9:53 pm

    Unbelievable shots in the video! Thanks for sharing.

  17. David Herskowitz
    February 24, 2011 | 9:18 pm

    Hey Forest and Annie, Thanks for the report from Annapurna ! It brings back lots of memories for me. I did the Annapurna trek back in 1989…I’m sure the mountains ans trails are still pretty much unchanged though. I actually went counterclockwise and started from Sisuwa and went through Thorang-la pass also and then down into Pokhara. I was there in the spring and we were lucky to see the amazing rhonedendron fields with the full set of mountains surrounding them…that was on the jomson side somewhere. Great to see you guys are still finding adventures to keep you exploring the world. Take care, David, Chris, Benjamin and Yoni

    • fbaker
      February 25, 2011 | 12:09 am

      1989? Before the internets? Wow, was Nepal even a country then? :)
      Great to hear from you Dave – I didn’t realize that you were in Nepal during your travels. One thing that has changed since you were there is that they’ve started building a jeep road up both sides of the valley. None-the-less, it’s still a beautiful place.
      Forest

  18. Dawn Marie
    February 24, 2011 | 8:29 pm

    um umm, butter tea cheers! looks like So much fun, and makes me love and miss ya’ll so so much :D

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