If you’re going to nepal you are probably going to go trekking. The endless guidebooks will tell you that every time of year is the best time and every time of year is the worst.
We ended up being in Nepal during winter (January) and therefore were there for their coldest and arguably driest season (it wasn’t that dry).
One of the most popular treks to do is the Annapurna base camp circuit and I think winter is the perfect time of year to do it. Yes it can get super freezing (about -14c at the base camp), but if you can deal with this, and it’s only really cold at night, then you will have mostly clear days, the pick of teahouses and discounted prices. As the Annapurna base camp trek is a teahouse based trek, meaning there are loads of guesthouses along the way, there is no way of actually camping so it doesn’t matter coming in winter.
Here is our guide to doing the Annapurna base camp trek with little preparation prior to arriving, on a budget, and in the depths of the winter conditions.
Prior to arriving:
You should know which trek you want to do, or at least have an idea. If you want to do Everest you will need to be prepared to pay a little more for permit and flights and you will have to take a guide. If you do Annapurna, the way is easy to follow, so there is no need for a guide, however it would be strongly advised to go in at least a pair.
You should also be aware that the trek will cost you money, so be prepared to have some to spend. However, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune and you can do it on a backpacker/ stingy budget.
You will need to get permits which will cost $20 for a trekking card and $20 for annapurna conservation card.
You will also need to rent equipment if you don’t already have it, this varies in cost but was about $3 per day for boots and sleeping bag
Guesthouses will cost about 200 ruppees per day in the winter ( half that of normal – this is the only thing you can bargain for).
Food varies as you go up and will get gradually more expensive. The cheapest food is noodle soup ( from 280-500) and Dalh bhat will cost from 400-750 which will fill you up the most.
Tea is about 80 up the whole way.
Alcoholic drinks are much more expensive on route so buying a bottle before heading up there is advisable.
You will need about $10-15 per day per person average, although you can spend less if you are careful.
You will also need to factor in transportation from Pokhara to the start of the trek.
Permits in Kathmandu:
The first thing you will need to get is a permit. You will need to head to the permit office with a couple of passport photos, your insurance details, a rough idea of the route you will be taking, and your start and end dates. You will also need to pay in cash, but there are plenty of cash machines outside the office. I advise to get there first thing to avoid queues. The processing time is about 20 minutes.
If, like us, you don’t have any warm gear or trekking clothes prior to arriving then fear not. You can get some of the best fake trekking gear in Kathmandu or Pokhara. The costs are pretty similar in either place so unless you need to keep warm in Kathmandu you can get everything in Pokhara. We bought a down Jacket, hats, gloves, fleeces and rented boots and sleeping bags. You will also need:
Base layers ( for sleeping)
Also go to any pharmacy and buy some water purifying tablets (this will save you a load of money higher up)
Bottle of rum (you will thank me when you’re higher up)
Pack of cards
You will also need all your money in cash (take more than you think you’ll need as there are no cash machines)
Snacks – sweets, dry packs of noodles, biscuits, tea bags
Map of the area
If you have a smartphone download maps.me it actually has the trekking routes on
Swimming trunks – there are hot springs up there which are well worth the trip.
Check the weather, but we would also advise renting crampons. They are very small but will be a lifesaver if it’s icy or snows, we found this out the hard way
Kathmandu to Pokhara:
For any of the Annapurna treks you will need to head to Pokhara. This is super easy and you can probably book a ticket at any hostel. Have a look around though as we saw prices vary quite a bit. Around 650-800 is the average price. The buses leave really early in the morning so you’ll arrive at lunch, once there negotiate a price with the taxi drivers to take you to Lakeside. There are a huge number of hostel options so have a look around. A good cheap option we stayed in was Nepali Cottage Guesthouse and the owners are super friendly and helpful. Also, check with your accommodation as to whether you can leave your main pack there meaning you can take a smaller bag only with you on the trek. A lot of places will keep your luggage for free.
Planning your route:
First thing you need to do is work out how long you have to trek. You can do the basic base camp trek in about 5 days minimum. However we added on an initial trek up to Ghorepani and Poon Hill and took our time coming down so did the circuit in about 9 days. If you buy an actual map a lot of them have the time it will take you to walk between places so you can work out how long it may take you. However, as there are so many guesthouses you can work this out as you go along. Every guesthouse will tell you how long it will take to get to the next stop.
Wherever you start from you will need to get there from Pokhara. You can take a taxi, however if you want a cheaper option, take a taxi to the bus station (ask a taxi driver to drop you off at the bus station to Nayapul) and then get a bus to Nayapul. From here you can make your way to the first checkpoint and begin your trek. You can even get a bus from Nayapul all the way up to Ghandruk cutting off a day or two on more road like paths.
Our first day was our longest and we went a little too hard. We are not the fittest and while we do walk at home we don’t climb up and down stairs all the time. We took a long 8 hour day with a 1.5km elevation which really took it out of us the next day (and the days after). I would advice take the first day a little easier and give yourself a bit of time, remember that you will never be more than about an hour from a guesthouse so if you are feeling good at the end of your first day you could always push on a little more.
The weather is also best in the morning so setting off early and ending nice and early is advisable. It will also mean you can shower in the light, which is always better. Unless you’re scared of your own body which means showering in the dark could be good… up to you.
If you do head up towards Poon Hill you will also have the benefit of the guesthouses being allowed to light wood fires, which is not such a luxury elsewhere.
Once you start I also advise looking out for a good walking stick which will become your best friend on the downward steps. Once you get into the bamboo forests there will be plenty.
You will be heading up to 4100 meters so for some people altitude will be an issue. Read all the precautions along route and if you are feeling ill do as they say. There is no point getting yourself into danger for no reason.
We decided to go up to the summit for sunrise. Ask in your guesthouse what time the sunrise is and what time to get up for it. Genuinely seeing the orange sun rise on the mountains is one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. The steps on route are a bastard, but the final ascent is well worth it, we got up and head a breakfast of snickers pies, which are as good as they sound, with the most beautiful view of the Himalayas all around us in the morning sun.
I have attempted this trek twice now. The first time I came I was unable to get up the summit due to Avalanches. This is a real risk, so do ask the teahouses about this once you get up past Dovan. If there has been heavy snow recently they will be able to advise you on how best to go forward.
This was one of the best things we have ever done, and while it was hard it was so rewarding and absolutely incredible. You can read about our personal thoughts here: http://chosenfood.net/2017/01/27/walking-it-off/
Back in Pokhara, you shouldn’t feel guilty about looking for some home comforts. For something from home with a little difference, head to the moon cinema at the other end of town. Look on their Facebook page for listings and then head along to watch a movie overlooking the lake. Genuinely, it’s pretty magical.