In the fall of 2014, my wife, Sonia, and I set out on a 200-mile trekking trip to Nepal to experience the famous Annapurna Circuit along with a few side trips.
As we were starting the trek, along with a local guide we’d hired, a line of thunderstorms in the Indian Ocean spawned a Category 4 cyclone, which caught Nepal by surprise. We were about halfway around the circuit in a communications black hole, getting ready to cross an 18,000-foot pass when balmy weather turned into a snowstorm.
Many were trapped up high without the proper equipment. Some had never seen snow before. While we were safe in a village at 12,000 feet, the storm unleashed avalanches everywhere. An estimated 43 people died from slides and exposure. The story made international news at the time. To escape, we backtracked over swollen rivers and mudslides. It was a sad march as we mourned those who didn’t make it out.
Don’t get me wrong. While we experienced shadow, we also saw an abundance of light. It was a magnificent trip and I miss Nepal and its wonderful people every day. I can’t stop thinking about returning to snow leopard country.
As I was unpacking the gear at home, it got me thinking about what worked and what didn’t. If you’re heading that way, here are some tips:
HELICOPTER RESCUE: We researched many travel insurance companies but couldn’t find one that we were comfortable with. Many customers had horror stories about some companies not paying out on claims.
We joined the American Alpine Club, which offers a $5,000 helicopter rescue benefit (international or domestic) through Global Rescue. When our family couldn’t contact us, we were temporarily put on a list of missing people. Global Rescue acted quickly and professionally and was able to confirm through our guide service that we were OK. Although the helicopter didn’t have to go after us, we were impressed with Global Rescue’s response.
SICKNESS: Although the avalanches and landslides didn’t get us, the bacteria did. After we both came down with severe intestinal infections, we went to the Celestial Health Care Center in Pokhara. The pills (Cipro) we’d brought with us weren’t strong enough. A great doctor fixed us up with more powerful antibiotics and probiotics manufactured in India. It did the trick. The health center charged us only $60 each for the examination, medication and free follow-up visits. The money charged to foreigners then goes to provide free health care to Nepalis.
The doctor mentioned five things westerners should not eat in Nepal if they want to avoid getting sick. It’s a little tough because the food is so good.
- Lassi drinks (yogurt)
- Fresh juice
- Milkshakes or any other kind of shakes
GEAR: Because we live in Colorado, we were able to test the gear throughly before we left. But on the Annapurna Circuit, as with other treks in Nepal, you encounter a variety of conditions from the sweltering lowlands to the upper alpine landscapes. I won’t repeat what’s on many other gear lists, but I want to highlight a handful of items.
- Cocoon MummyLiner (silk): Provides a luxury sheet for your sleeping bag or can be used alone in hot climates. Easy to wash and dries out fast. Doesn’t weigh anything. Blankets and sheets at teahouses are notoriously dirty.
- SmartWool Hike Crew Socks: These worked great, especially when paired with SmartWool liner socks. No blisters. They do take awhile to dry out after you wash them. The liner socks dry much faster and give you the feeling of having fresh socks.
- Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap: I’ve yet to get sunburn on my face or neck when I wear this hat properly. Lightweight and packs down to nothing.
- prAna Stretch Zion Pant: Best hiking pants I’ve ever owned. Amazingly comfortable and durable. Dry fast. Roll them up in hot climates to avoid the chimney effect caused by warmth from your boots.
- SteriPEN Classic 3 with Pre-Filter: This worked without fail to purify water on the fly. I didn’t have to carry as much water. The pre-filter came in handy as there was sediment at some water taps. I used chlorine tablets for backup.
- Survive Outdoors Longer Emergency Bivvy: I left this item out at the last minute, but I won’t make that mistake again. We were nearly in a survival situation and it could have helped me or someone else.
BONUS TIP: Tuck lithium batteries in your sleeping bag at night to keep them warm and minimize depletion.