Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Trekking to Hell and Back: The Annapurna Circuit

Now that I'm back on level ground breathing oxygenated air and not carrying a backpack full of trekking gear everywhere I go, I can look back on my time trekking along the Annapurna Circuit of the Nepalese Himalayan mountain range and say that is was, by far, one of the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done (this is my FIRST attempt at any form of "trekking"). Suffice to say, the 14 (yes, 14!) days I spent trekking up to a height of 5416 meters to Thorung La, the highest point along the Annapurna Circuit, were well worth it for the spectacular views, the physical challenge, subsequent victory and lifelong experience, despite the toll on my body and mind.

Prayer flags flying in the winds of Thorung La
I'm glad I trekked the Annapurna Circuit but I have to admit, when I agreed to go trekking with Matt and Craig, I didn’t really understand what I was signing myself up for. I only assume that they didn’t fully divulge the actualities of trekking in the Himalayas to me because they knew I probably would have stayed in my nice, warm, low-elevation hotel room.

Matt and Craig relaxing after day 1 of trekking
First off, and this may be somewhat apparent to most people and it should have been to me except it somehow wasn’t, trekking is HARD! Besides the obvious fact that waking up at dawn to hike up a mountain into thinner air for five or more hours a day is physically draining, it’s also mentally exhausting.

Along the trail, Matt and I overheard someone say that "50% of trekking is 100% mental" and at the time, the guy just sounded ridiculous and I'm kind of embarrassed to say it, but he was right. So much of trekking IS mental and on the days where I wasn’t mentally prepared for the hours of walking, I found myself dragging my feet and needing more "time-outs" often than days where I was “in the zone.”

Clearly, this was a day I was NOT "in the zone"
Secondly, Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is actually a bit fun. Yes, AMS is very dangerous and people can and have died from AMS, but when you’re up at a higher elevation and your brain isn’t getting all the oxygen it needs, things can get really funny really fast. AMS is, in fact, a cute mountain sickness. In my uncontrollable fits of laughter, something in my throat must have dislodged itself because whenever I laugh hard, a distinct rattling sound emanates from the back of my throat. I think the rattling sound is still there though it’s hard to tell since I’m longer prone to low oxygenated fits of laughter that I’m down from the mountain.

Matt suffering from "a cute mountain sickness"
Thirdly, trekking is expensive. Ridiculously expensive, comparatively speaking to other travel costs. The cost of equipment, trekking permits, lodging along the trail and the (mostly bad) food at the lodges all add up to a large sum in the end. Matt and I didn't take out enough cash in Pokhara and since ATM machines are non-existent along most of the trail, we ended up having to borrow money from Craig. I guess we shouldn't have splurged on all that garlic soup and pots of milk tea... Or we should have just been better prepared and brought more cash with us.

Lastly, I learned a lot about myself while on this trek. I learned that I can achieve anything (namely, trekking for 14 days up to a high altitude) if I put my mind to it. I learned that between the option of taking a freezing shower surrounded by freezing cold mountain air and NOT taking a shower, I'm okay with NOT taking a shower for at least three days. I learned I'm okay with not changing clothes and socks for that same duration if it means not having to get naked in that same freezing cold. I learned that I can feel no shame in squatting down and relieving myself pretty much anywhere, even right outside my lodge room door (especially on cold nights because that means no need to walk in the cold to get to the squat toilet outside). I learned that I don't function well in the cold (as evidenced by all the other things I have learned). And I guess more importantly, I learned that I'm not such a princess after all. Or maybe I'm still a bit delusional from the lack of oxygen...

All in all, trekking the Himalayas in Nepal was an incredible experience and I'm so glad that I did it (and made it over the pass)! The memories of it will no doubt last a lifetime!

© Connie Hum 2010


  1. Hi,

    What are you using the word "Hell" for? Do you know Heaven? If the enchanting mountains are "Hell" for you, you are full of negative thoughts like a mad person (or psychiatric some thing like this). It seems you see White as Black and Black as white. On the other hand, you don't have any rights to say our mountains "Hell". These are our lovely mountains which we love more than ourselves. Your message has broken our hearts.

    Next, you seem to be talking about money much. There must be a fee to step our mountains or see her beauty. In the world, what are you getting in free? Don't be miser to see the world beauty.

    Lastly, you must apologize for your expression.

    Bipan Shrestha (From Kathmandu)
    Now in the UK

  2. I find your response (and subsequent attack) to my blog about the Annapurna Circuit completely unfounded and as “black and white” as you accuse me to be. The contents of this particular blog were clearly lost in translation to you. In no way did I refer to the Himalayas as “hell” in the entire passage. The hell I was referring to was my own physical and mental anguish I experienced in pushing myself to my own limits. If you read my blog again, you will find that I actually say NO negative things about the mountains themselves. In fact, you will find that the majority of the blog has nothing to do with the mountains at all, but rather my own personal challenges I encountered on the trek.

    As for my remarks regarding the financial costs of trekking in the Himalayas, the problem wasn’t that it’s merely expensive, it was that I ran out of money in the middle of the mountain. There is clear evidence that I and the other thousands of foreigners who trek within the Himalayan mountain range each year think it’s worth it and are willing to pay for such privileges, but where does the 3400 rupees I paid to enter the Annapurna region go? There was little evidence any of that money went toward the direct preservation of the mountains or to the benefit of the people living in the region and the money certainly didn’t go toward guaranteeing trekker safety, which is what I was told the TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management System) fee was for. Any medical attention and/or advice needed while on the trek had to be paid for out of the pocket of the trekker and there wasn’t even safe drinking water provided, which was yet another expense that increased in price the higher up the mountain you went.

    I agree with you that the mountains are indeed lovely and I regret that you erroneously misunderstood my blog in a way that “broke your heart.” What really breaks MY heart is your claim that the Nepalese love these mountains so much because from what I saw from the cavalier way that the local people so carelessly and without any hesitation littered garbage, plastic bottles, plastic bags, cigarette butts, and other refuse into the mountain side, not to mention the grossly polluted state of the rivers, I wonder how much of these mountains are actually revered and loved by her people and how much longer these same mountains will remain “enchanting” and “lovely.”

  3. Why to attack your blog? We are not blog attackers. We are writing things which we feel. Don’t charge people in whatever style you like and don’t expect that all the people should praise and follow you or think as you think.
    Still, I tell you that you are giving false expression on your own writing. The title said: “Trekking to Hell and Back…”, and the message inside said you paid RS. 3400 for Trek. Did you pay for your physical pain or for trekking the Annapurna Circuit? See the statement: “Suffice to say, the 14 (yes, 14!) days I spent trekking up to a height of 5416 meters to Thorung La, the world's largest trading pass, were well worth it for the spectacular views, despite the toll on my body, mind and bank account.” What does this sentence say? Does it say you trekked to misery or you trekked to Thorung La? See another sentence: “I am glad I trekked the Annapurna Circuit…” Still you are telling me to read the passage again. It should be shame for you. I didn’t write without understanding. Then, it should be clear that you trekked where, you wrote what and how you are deceiving people like us by your justification. Our concern is: write your feelings Think and write, you should know what you are writing, but it should not break our heart and nationality. Another important thing is: Don’t try to misinterpret the writing and deceive people? We also could learn some English and understand it. Don’t think that you are a tourist and could do or could write anything you want or you like.

  4. Wow, Connie! I know you appreciate all of the adventures that you have experienced and that you have an immense love for the world around you. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise! (I know you won't) This person clearly doesn't understand. Keep on trekking! :) -Amie

  5. I lost a friend or enemy (still wondering which at this point) due to something she apparently misunderstood. Ironic, since I gave her free English lesons for a whole summer, but it happens I guess. Slang is very hard to understand for a non-native speaker.

  6. Bipan, you have absolutely no idea what the HELL you are talking about. Did you see that? Yes, I used HELL as an expression. That is something called slang. Unless you are a native English speaker you will not understand most English slang. Just like I will never understand any slang in your language. You are so way off base it's actually pretty funny to me. So get off your "holier than thou" bullshit. It's HELLA rude!!

    Connie, your post was amazing and I enjoyed the pictures! Everything you said made perfect sense and there was nothing offensive at all. Don't listen to idiots like Bipan, maybe this is the same person who tried to scam you.

    Bipan, get bent. ~ Kassie

  7. Hi,

    Every one has right to share their feelings when you come to the public. It is better you should use language that is easier for all. In the name of native speakers, it is not better to blame other people. I have known my friends well.

    Hey Kassie, it is shocking to hear my friend whatever you like.You are so rude. You don't have rights to say this. It is concerned to us because there is posting about Nepal. Nepal is ours, remember this.

    Who scammed you? You yourself seem to be a scammer.

    You, get bent.

  8. Clearly there is a misunderstanding of her blog post. She did not say the mountains were hell, there was no intention to offend. Rather she was referring to the personal experience of going on a trek without fully understanding how difficult it would be (= hell). But she does not regret it, she realized that she could indeed complete the trek. She thought the mountains were beautiful. How can that offend you?

    And as far as writing whatever she wants, well she is completely free to do so, regardless of who it might offend. But I assure you, that was not at all her intention.

  9. Very interesting post for me having been to the annapurna region around six or seven times!
    An unusual point of view as well.

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