Started the uphill trek to Tal- lots of steep stairs and switchbacks. Great route- fun/ mixed terrain. Found an ankle brace at Tal, which really helped Trey. Also, more ginger tea!
The next hour saw us climbing high up on those narrow steep paths that T loves so much. The route was also used for cows, goats and horses so it was common to have to navigate around animals on a path two feet wide.
On this occasion we found ourselves behind three cows. After introducing ourselves (they were facing the opposite direction so we talked to their arses) I took the right side and stayed uphill trying to dodge past and avoiding scaring them and causing them to kick.
Trey, took the inside route by the sheer drop to try and pass. Can you see where this is going?
As he did this, the black cow looked at him pushed his horns into T’s stomach and lifted him up pushing him off the hillside.
I was too busy avoiding the cows arse to see this but when I looked up T was gone. Split seconds later he popped up from the side of the hill after grabbing hold of some bamboo on his way down. Lucky for him there were some trees in this section as the drop was several hundred metres down.
We followed this up with a terrible lunch at Karte. 1220nrps $10 of momos (dumplings), Tibetan bread with omelette – super oily, tea and water). Certainly not worth crossing the suspension bridge for.
That night stayed at Hotel Snowland which was one of the many tea houses lining the route in the village. – we were offered a free room if we ate dinner and breakfast there. We had hot showers, double bed with blanket.
We met a lovely Dutch couple who we would meet again along the route. It’s not unusual to see people multiple times since it’s a popular route and many walk the same pace and stop in the same places.
A lady called Santi owned the hotel and she recommended us a hotel in Chame so we’d be set for the next night.
We decided to start the trek from Ngadi as we’d walked here earlier in the week so felt like we’d experienced this part of the trek already. It was along dusty roads so instead we took a 30 min bus from Khudi. Since we were now trekkers we were no longer eligible for Nepali rates on the bus and got stung as tourists.
As a side note: Both of us are very uncomfortable with heights. For me the rope suspension bridges ( like Indiana Jones style) are nightmare and with Trey it’s the narrow steep trekking paths with no guard or edge to a vertical drop. Unlucky for us, as we are to discover, this trek had both.
As another side note: It’s possible to drive up the Annapurna Circuit all the way to the town of Manang instead of hiking it, which helps with supply the towns with food and supplies. Throughout the 5 days we saw countless jeeps speeding through the track with locals and hikers who wanted to start the trek at a later stage or for those with limited time who wanted to walk one way and speed back (this would be us in a few days). Generally the jeep drivers were quite respectful of the hikers and remained in the centre of the oath, allowing the hikers the step aside graciously. However, we did experience 2 drivers who intentionally drove towards our side of the road to push us into the wall (dicks).
Wherever we had the choice we avoided the roads due to dust but in some parts we had no choice.
For this first section we had mixed terrain dusty road/ paved paths through villages/ rocky paths and steep waterfall rainforest at the last km.
Sun was hot around 25 C and it was hard getting back into hiking after the GR20. We definitely felt it in our legs walking up the roads with switchbacks and dust.
Funny thing we noticed was that although there were very few markings on the trail, the ones we did see were a red and white stripe just like the GR20. Funny right?
The route is really easy to follow and it’s not necessary to have a guide. There are villages sprinkled every hour or 5 km which shadow the route so you’re never too far away from a toilet, fresh water or a curry.
Mid way through the first day, Trey’s ankle flared up (from an old running injury) with his trail runners and he regretted not bringing his hiking boots on the trek.
That night we stayed at Super Rainbow View Guest House (great name) . It had a hot shower and extensive menu (Nepali and western food) so we were happy.
Owner called Ass (Aaaas) was very friendly and cut us a special deal on the room: he’d even throw in some blankets. Unfortunately the blankets were crawling with bugs so we declined the blankets but took the room.
Cost for room and board was 2870 nrps-$24
Pre hike research suggested we should allow 2500nrps/ pp for room and board $21/pp (5000nrps/$42 for the both of us) so already we were coming in under budget.
We planned on the full monty, but were happy with the Southern half. After 7 days on the trail, here are some tips we’ll use when we come back for the Northern half.
Whilst we did a lot of research and prep for this through hike, there are some things that you only learn on the job (so to speak). Here are our nuggets of wisdom:
Pack light: Everyone says this, because it’s true. Our packs were light but could have been lighter. As per the comments below, we could have ditched the tent and the sleep mats straight off and would have been ok.
Book ahead and reserve a Refuge tent: These are in place, set up and ready for hire. They cost around 10e/pp including a sleep mat compared to 8e/pp if you BYO. You save the tent weight in your pack as well as set up/breakdown time. They are also in the prime locations of the Refuge and not down a hill by the cheap seats. Downside is that it reduces flexibility and means you have to stick to a hiking agenda (no impromptu rest days). Another tip: take rest days 😁
Take a lightweight sleeping bag and liner: We hiked in the first half of September and it was still warm. At night the temp dropped to around 50F/10C which meant you could pack a super light sleeping bag and wear clothes if you were cold. My sleeping bag was super warm and most of the time I was on top of it.
Breakfast is not worth the cost at 8e/pp (hot drink, bread and jam): Take energy bars or packs of ready oats. Most of the Sud refuges had gas to boil water. We had porridge and a kettle with us but didn’t pack them in our packs as we wanted to save on weight. Mistake I think. Ahead of some of the big hikes it would have been great to have a bowl of porridge to start with.
North South vs South North: This is a tricky one. Starting at the North means that you get the heavy climbs done in the first 4 days and there is a promise of easier days ahead. Starting in the South, however, gives you time to get used to the trail, get stronger, understand the landscape, potentially, so that the Northern part is more manageable? I don’t know on this… 6 of 1 and half a dozen of the other. I’m sure there’s pros and cons to both. The psychology is interesting, if you start in the North you have the promise of easier days but could be put off immediately; starting in the South you have threats from everyone walking the other way about how hard the North is.
Read up on water sources so you only carry what you need per hike: Some routes have water sources en route and some don’t . If there is water available you can start with 1 ltr and pick up as you need it. This can lighten your pack by around 2kg.. If there is no water on the hike, then take what you need. There’s definitely a strategy to this.
Don’t carry food (unless you are on a budget and you don’t mind carrying everything): There is plenty to buy on route although it is significantly marked up. (Pots of tuna/rice salad are 3.50e but make a good lunch. Baguette is around 2.5e (over priced but who doesn’t like bread). There are no energy bars to buy / some places have snickers or candy but not many.
For evening meals most of the refuges served something whether it was lentils, pasta or pots of stew: It’s ‘ok’, it’s not a gourmet delight but you don’t have to prepare it, cook it or clean up afterwards so it’s worth the money… just (18e/pp +/-). You also have the chance to sit and chat with other hikers and hear their stories, although stories about dislocated thumbs or broken noses are not really the stories you want to hear when debating whether to continue. Saying that, we met some really, really nice people along the way and we hope to stay connected.
Clothes: I was pretty happy with what I took and I’d maybe only change 1 thing.
Fjall Raven Hike pants – wore these in the evening to keep legs warm and to have something not sweaty
Hooded down jacket – wore this at night and first thing in the evening. Also doubled as my pillow.
Rain shell – Used it on the rest day when it rained.
Mountain Hardwear Hike shorts – wore these nearly everyday for hiking
2 hike shirts – wore these in the evenings / could have just had 1. These are lightweight and quick dry so didn’t really add to the weight
1 hike t shirt – Icebreaker and excellent – wore it every day. Washed as needed
3 pairs of Smartwool socks – 1 clean pair for camp / sleeping – 2 alternating for hiking
3 pairs Exofficio undies – rotated and washed
2 Icebreaker bras – rotated and washed
Camp shoes – ugly but received so many compliments from fellow hikers. Take that Fashion people who laughed at my shoes…..
Asolo Hiking boots – Amazing – best shoes ever – never had a blister in these. We saw a lot of people with trail runners on, but T + I really appreciated having ankle protection. Note, the trails are MUCH rougher than those in North America.
Baseball cap – wore it everyday (to cover my unwashed non green/grey hair)
Wooly hat – didn’t wear it on head but used it to relieve pressure on my shoulders after my collarbones bruised from carrying the pack.
2 bandanas- wore one to guard the back of my neck against the sun and used the other for the other collarbone (see above)
Backpack: Osprey, Lumina + Levity (male and female version) Exceptionally light and VERY comfortable for both of us.
Hiking poles are a must. Just ask the grumpy dudes carrying heavy ass pieces of wood. We used Black Diamond carbon fiber – super light. We made a lot of people jealous.
Trail bars / Cliff/Pro Bar – Good to have for lunch and trail snacks
Nuun tablets – we took too many I think. Used them but not obsessively
Toilet paper – most necessary
Headlamp – yes – used everyday
Hand sanitizer – yes
Sunblock – yes
Bag of medicine (migraine tabs, ibuprofen, Imodium) yes – used in most cases
BabyWipes – Most places had showering facilities (mostly cold) so we could have reduced the amount of baby-wipes we took. I overpacked – haha
Liquid Soap for Body, hair, + clothes (Camp suds): Yes, this does exist and was amazing. Saying that, I chose to avoid using it on my hair as I didn’t want my natural highlights to turn green from the soap.. : ). Only those with grey hair would understand this dilemma. Another thing to note that there were a lot of well groomed hikers. Blokes shaved their faces and ladies shaved their legs… Made T + I feel scruffy.
Although a GPS is not necessary, having a GPS app on your phone with all the maps allowed us to plan the days. Also having the GR20 guide on the phone was really helpful to read ahead.
Clothes pegs: we took 10 and they’re were SO handy to peg out our smalls of an evening.
Sam Splint: We took one of these but thankfully didn’t need it. As far as first aid is concerned we were never more than 100yds from another person.
This was a relatively ‘easy’ day in terms of the path and the route. The weather was warm and sunny and the wooded areas gave some nice shade and breeze. The ascent was gradual and most of it was shaded. We left around 8.30 am and took our time. Our proposed train was due to leave Vizzavona at 17.56 and we had estimated the hike would take around 5 hours so we took it really easy.
When we reached Vizzavona we headed to one of the 3 restaurants located at the station and ordered Steak Frites and wine to celebrate our accomplishment. It was pretty sweet.
And just like that, we boarded the train and headed to Ajaccio to collect our bags, have a shower, shave my legs, trim T’s beard, and to sleep in a proper bed.