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.
Route and GPS tracks for the Annapurna Circuit
For a guidebook, we bought the Annapurna: Trekking Map and Complete Guide 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.
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 or MontBell UL. We also carried Therm-a-Rests, but never needed to use them.
Here are some other things that we were glad that we had:
- Hiking Poles – saved our knees
- Headlight – for those late night trips to the outhouse
- Bladder – convenient for staying hydrated
- Sigg Water Bottle – great for holding boiled water (nice to sleep with)
- Garmin eTrex
- SPOT Personal Tracker
If you are thinking about hiking the Annapurna Circuit in the winter, feel free to post a question.