This time last year, I was the highest I’ve ever been - really! I spent 10 days completing an “express” version of the Annapurna circuit in Nepal which culminates in a climb up and over Thorong La, the highest navigable pass in the world at 5416m above sea level.
I wasn’t sure what compelled me to swap Sydney’s summer for the snow of the Himalayas but it was without a doubt one of the most challenging and cathartic experiences I have ever had.
NAME: Matt Lennon
WHAT YOU DO: I’m a Brand Director and Creative Consultant
STAR SIGN: Libra (Scorpio Rising)
LOCATION: Annapurna, Nepal
The Annapurna trek is famous for its colourful tea houses, scattered throughout the circuit and divided into 12 main villages.
Each Tea House is run by a family of locals and provides travellers with basic but charming accomodation.
After a day of hiking between 15 - 25km through the mountains I’d look forward to arriving at a tea house with my guide to rest, eat and speak with other travellers about our experiences that day.
One thing to keep in mind is that the amenities in the tea houses are simple at best -- flushing toilets, private bathrooms and electricity at certain times of the day become a luxury as you venture deeper into the trek.
The family-style Nepalese food that is prepared for you at the Tea Houses each day was one of the highlights of the trip. With Indian, Chinese and Tibetan influences the food is flavoursome and unique to each village’s crops.
The dish you will hear about most often on the trail is Dal Bhat, a combination of lentil soup, vegetable curry, steamed and pickled vegetables and rice. It’s the meal that all of the guides will eat each night and there’s a saying in the mountains, “Dal Bhat power 24 hour”, which basically speaks to the slow burning energy packed into the dish.
Outside of Dal Bhat, the menu is very multicultural from Pizza and pasta to salad and sausages -- there’s something for everyone. My advice when travelling in remote locations is to always eat vegetarian to minimise the risk of food poisoning (or food paranoia in my case) and trust that you’ll get all of the nutrients you need from seasonal, local produce.
Putting one foot in front of the other is all you really have to do on this adventure.
I find there’s something meditative about rising early and spending days on a trail with nowhere in particular to be and nothing familiar in sight.
Of course, it helps that you are surrounded by some of the most ancient and diverse scenery in the world. Aside from the walking (and there is a lot of walking!). There are also some incredible stops along the way; for much of the trail you follow the Marshyangdi river that snakes through the foot-hills and up high to the glacial lakes that it originates from.
In the village of Chame the river opens up to a series of hot springs built on it’s banks. The pools are used by locals (and a few lucky travellers that stumble upon them) to bathe, wash clothes and relax.
Spending time here early in the morning as the sun rose over snowy mountains was one of the best parts of the trip. Life on the trail (especially in the colder off-season when I visited) is characterised by sunrise starts, days where you might only see a handful of other humans, evenings huddled around an open fire and lots of time to think and reflect.
While there is access to the internet along the trail, I highly recommend cutting back on your screen time if you can: bring a book, listen to new music, play card games, write and speak to new people.
It’s so rare that we get the chance to fully immerse ourselves in nature so make sure you’re connecting with others but most of all (and hopefully this comes across only slightly cliche) take time to connect with yourself.
There’s not a lot that you need to buy along the way if you come well prepared, however, the larger villages like Besisahar at the start of the trek and Manang towards the end offer a range of hiking gear and amenities should you need to pick anything up.
If you fly in and out of Kathmandu like I did, be sure to check out the local markets which are filled with really well priced crystals, incense, and local crafts.
I found packing for this trip both fun and terrifying. The fun part was learning more about some of the truly iconic outdoor brands like Patagonia and the North Face and discovering diffusion lines like Nike ACG and Alexander Wang x Uniqlo that make some really fun technical pieces.
To be clear, I did not go to the Himalayas to have a fashion moment… but if you can have form and function, then I say why not? The terrifying part was that I booked the trip incredibly last minute and had never really done anything like it before; Do I need altitude tablets?
Would there be access to bottled water? Will these shoes give me blisters?... The answer to all of these questions is YES by the way. This guide was a great resource and also covers off the type of weather conditions you can expect during different times of the year.
Finally, for those wanting to complete the circuit or any other trek in Nepal I highly recommend engaging a guide to travel with you through a reputable company. My incredible guide Udip who I booked through Mountain Sherpa Trekking was quite literally by my side the entire journey and made the experience so much more fun and meaningful. For anyone that wants to travel with Udip you should also know he plays a great version of Knockin’ on Heaven’s door and will expertly art direct all of your photos on the trail.