How challenging is the Annapurna circuit trek?

By Glorious Himalaya on July 30, 2023 in Travel Tips, Trekking

Annapurna Circuit Trek is one of the most popular treks in Nepal, alongside the Annapurna and Everest Base Camp Trek. The trek is easy to moderate in difficulty and takes you on an adventure in the Annapurna region. This guide will discuss whether Annapurna Circuit is demanding for beginners and what makes any trekking spot challenging.

The Annapurna Circuit trek is a magnificent adventure in the Annapurna region. You will pass through many beautiful but remote Gurung, Thakalis, and Manangi villages until you reach the trek’s final destination, Thorong La Pass. Thorong La Pass is at an altitude of 5416m, meaning the trek is not easy, as plenty of factors increase its difficulty.

One factor that influences trek difficulty is altitude. Other factors include distance, duration, rugged terrain, and dynamic weather. So, let’s explore these factors and learn how to track them, increasing the difficulty of the Annapurna Circuit Trek.

Factors Influencing Difficulty of Annapurna Circuit Trek

Distance and Duration

Annapurna Circuit Trek is one of the medium-level treks whose duration can be increased or decreased. The average day for undertaking the Annapurna Circuit Trek is 14 days, which can be expanded to 21 days by adding a few more itineraries. Trekking for 14 days in high-altitude wilderness is tricky as you will tire quickly. Furthermore, each day, you have to cover a reasonable distance by trekking for 5-7 hours, which makes your body ache and tired. Hence, to overcome this trek difficulty, it is essential to consider your physical fitness and stamina well before booking it. It is vital to keep exercising in your core, strength, cardiovascular, and breathing exercises. You can train your physical exercises by cycling, walking, swimming, etc., which will help you improve your stamina.

Given the strenuous nature of the uphill and downhill sections, strength training targeting the legs, core, and back can be beneficial. Flexibility and balance exercises can also help reduce the risk of injury. Despite the physical demands, the trek doesn’t require technical climbing skills. However, consultation with a healthcare provider before the trip is strongly recommended, particularly for individuals with underlying health conditions.

Trail Conditions

Another significant difficulty of the Annapurna Circuit Trek is the rugged trail conditions. The trail conditions are varied, ranging from sub-tropical landscapes in the lower altitude to the peak rocky valleys in the middle. As you climb the altitude, the train changes to slippery glacial moraine and snow-peaked mountains. The trails are not simple, as you must pass through several twists and turns before reaching the high altitude. The trek’s difficulty arises from the steep climbs you need to ascend and descend, the dynamic weather, and the remote settlement. Due to the rugged trail conditions, you must pack proper gear like sleeping bags, hiking boots, trekking poles, sticks, ropes, etc., to avoid falling and getting injured. Despite these challenges, trekkers can successfully navigate the Annapurna Circuit with adequate preparation and awareness.

Altitude Sickness

The Annapurna Circuit is a challenging trek due to the high altitude. It starts in warm areas and quickly goes up to 5,416m at Thorong La High Pass. As the trail goes through different heights, the air gets thinner, which can be challenging. Trekkers might have trouble with high altitudes, so getting used to them and knowing the risks are essential. Because of the different heights along the way, it’s important to plan and prepare for the altitude, which makes it a challenging trek. The symptoms of altitude sickness are continuous cough, fever, headache, lack of appetite, and constant fatigue. One way to prevent altitude sickness is by acclimatization and not rushing towards the altitude.

Weather Conditions

Another major trek difficulty during your Annapurna Circuit Trek is the dynamic weather. At the height of over 5400m, the weather changes quickly, and the harsh cold conditions and the winds blow at a blistering speed, making it difficult to trek. There is a major chance of frequent rainfall and snowfall, and the risk of blizzards, snowstorms, and avalanches is high.

The best time to trek the Annapurna Circuit is during the post-monsoon autumn months (October-November) and pre-monsoon spring months (March-April). These periods typically offer clear skies and moderate temperatures, providing the best mountain views.

Winter treks (December-February) can be challenging due to heavy snowfall and frigid temperatures, especially at higher altitudes, making some parts of the trail impassable.

The monsoon season (June-September) is usually avoided due to heavy rains, potential landslides, and reduced visibility. However, some adventurous trekkers opt for this period, as the trail is less crowded, and the rain brings lush greenery and vibrant wildflowers.

Staying updated with the latest weather forecasts and trail conditions is crucial regardless of when you plan to go.

Himalayan Cough

Himalayan cough, known as Khumbu cough, is common among high-altitude trekkers and climbers. It is a dry, persistent cough caused by cold air typically found at high altitudes. The lack of humidity and freezing temperatures can irritate and dry out the bronchial tubes, leading to this hacking cough.

The Himalayan cough can indeed make the Annapurna Circuit trek more difficult. It can be quite severe and interrupt sleep, causing fatigue. In extreme cases, vigorous coughing can lead to rib fractures or cause a short-term decrease in lung function.

Preventing Himalayan cough involves keeping the throat and chest warm and staying hydrated. Covering the mouth with a scarf or mask can also help warm the air before it enters the lungs. If symptoms persist, medical advice should be sought, as the cough can also be a symptom of more altitude-related severe illnesses.

Symptoms of Himalayan cough:

  • Persistent dry cough
  • Throat irritation and pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Fatigue
  • Potential coughing up of blood (In severe cases)

Cure of Himalayan cough:

  • Stay hydrated
  • Humidify the air
  • Rest and descent
  • Warmth – Keeping chest and throat warm
  • Over-the-counter remedies (syrups)
  • Avoid irritants (smoking and alcohol)
  • Medication (inhaled steroids or bronchodilators)

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness, or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), is a significant risk for trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit due to the high altitudes reached. The highest point on the trail, Thorong La Pass, stands at 5,416 meters (17,769 feet), with less than half of the oxygen level at sea level.

AMS is caused by ascending to high altitudes too quickly, which can prevent your body from adapting to lower oxygen levels and changes in air pressure. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, difficulty sleeping, and loss of appetite.

The key to preventing AMS is gradual acclimatization. This involves ascending slowly and spending extra nights at various points along the trek, like Manang, to allow your body time to adjust to the altitude. Once you’re above 3,000 meters (9,843 feet), the rule of thumb is not to increase your sleeping elevation by more than 300-500 meters (980-1640 feet) per day.

If symptoms of AMS develop, stopping ascending and rest is essential. If symptoms do not improve or worsen, immediate descent is crucial. Severe forms of altitude sickness like High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention.

HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema)

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) is a severe, potentially life-threatening form of altitude sickness that occurs when fluid accumulates i

n the lungs. It’s primarily caused by ascending to high altitudes too rapidly and not allowing the body to acclimatize.

Symptoms of HAPE:

  • Difficulty breathing, even at rest
  • Extreme fatigue and weakness
  • The feeling of tightness or fullness in the chest
  • Persistent cough, often with pink or white froth
  • Cyanosis (bluish color of lips, tongue, and skin)
  • Increased heart rate and rapid shallow breathing
  • Confusion, disorientation, or irrational behavior

Treatment and Prevention of HAPE:

  • Immediate descent: The most effective treatment is descending to a lower altitude as quickly and safely as possible.
  • Oxygen: Supplemental oxygen can alleviate symptoms and promote recovery.
  • Medication: Nifedipine, used to decrease pulmonary artery pressure, can be used under medical supervision.
  • Portable hyperbaric chambers: These can be used to simulate conditions at lower altitudes.
  • Acclimatization: Ascend slowly to allow your body to adjust to the altitude. This is the best way to prevent HAPE.
  • Medication: Under medical guidance, acetazolamide (Diamox) and dexamethasone can help prevent altitude sickness, including HAPE.
  • Rest: If symptoms of altitude sickness occur, stop ascending and rest. If symptoms worsen or do not improve, descend immediately.

HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema)

High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) is a severe and potentially fatal condition that can occur at high altitudes. The swelling of the brain characterizes it due to the leakage of cerebral blood vessels, typically resulting from rapid ascent to high altitude without proper acclimatization.

Symptoms of HACE:

  • Severe headache that is not relieved by over-the-counter painkillers
  • Ataxia (loss of physical coordination), which is often the hallmark sign
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Altered mental state, such as confusion, irritability, or hallucinations
  • Fatigue or extreme lethargy
  • Vision changes or retinal hemorrhages
  • Seizures in advanced stages
  • Coma in the most severe cases

Treatment and Prevention of HACE:

  • Immediate descent: The most effective treatment is descending to a lower altitude as quickly and safely as possible.
  • Oxygen: Supplemental oxygen can help decrease the severity of symptoms and stabilize the patient for descent.
  • Medication: Dexamethasone, a potent steroid, can be administered to reduce brain swelling.
  • Portable hyperbaric chambers Can be used to simulate conditions at lower altitudes.
  • Acclimatization: Ascend slowly to allow your body time to adjust to the altitude and prevent HACE.
  • Medication: Under medical guidance, acetazolamide (Diamox) and dexamethasone can help prevent altitude sickness, including HACE.
  • Rest: If symptoms of altitude sickness occur, stop ascending and rest. If symptoms worsen or do not improve, descend immediately.

Lack of Proper Gear

The lack of proper gear can significantly influence the Annapurna Circuit Trek experience and may even pose serious safety concerns. Temperature fluctuations along the trek are considerable, with warm conditions at lower elevations and potentially freezing temperatures higher. Unable clothing may lead to hypothermia, and sudden rain can leave trekkers uncomfortably wet and cold without rainproof gear.

Appropriate footwear is critical as the terrain varies greatly, including rocky paths and potentially slippery trails. Ill-fitting or inadequate footwear can result in discomfort and injuries. Likewise, a poorly fitted or overloaded backpack can cause backaches, adding unnecessary hardship to the journey.

Moreover, the intense sun at high altitudes increases the risk of sunburns and eye damage, making sun protection essential. Failing to have a sturdy water bottle or hydration bladder may lead to inadequate water consumption, while lacking critical safety items such as a first aid kit, headlamp, or altitude sickness medication can result in severe complications. Ultimately, having the right gear is a vital part of the Annapurna Circuit Trek preparation, significantly affecting the trek’s safety, comfort, and overall enjoyment.

Some must not forget gears for the Annapurna circuit trek:

  1. Trekking Boots
  2. Thermal Underwear
  3. Trekking Pants
  4. Waterproof Jacket and Pants
  5. Insulated Jacket
  6. Gloves
  7. Backpack
  8. Hat
  9. Sunglasses
  10. Sunscreen
  11. Water Bottle or Hydration Bladder
  12. Headlamp
  13. Microspikes
  14. First Aid Kit
  15. Altitude Sickness Medicine
  16. Sleeping Bag (if needed)
  17. Trekking Poles
  18. Map and Compass
  19. High-energy Snacks
  20. Multi-tool or Knife
  21. Toiletries (biodegradable soap, toilet paper, toothbrush, and toothpaste)
  22. Extra Batteries

Frostbites

Frostbite is a significant risk factor that can make the Annapurna Circuit Trek more challenging, particularly at higher elevations where temperatures drop below freezing. Frostbite is the freezing of skin and the underlying tissues, typically affecting the extremities such as the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks, and chin.

In the initial stages, frostbite may present as frostnip, characterized by skin that appears white and feels very cold. If exposure continues, the skin may feel numb, hard, or waxy. As frostbite progresses, it can permanently damage the affected areas and, in severe cases, result in amputation.

To prevent frostbite on the Annapurna Circuit, consider the following:

  1. Proper Clothing: Wear warmly, with particular attention to protecting extremities. Layers can effectively trap body heat. Waterproof and wind-resistant outer layers help keep you dry and shield you from the wind.
  2. Insulation: Wear insulated gloves and socks. Consider hand and foot warmers in extreme cold.
  3. Avoid Tight Clothing: Tight boots, gloves, or clothing can reduce circulation to your extremities and increase your risk of frostbite.
  4. Stay Dry: Wet skin freezes faster, so stay as dry as possible. This includes avoiding sweating by removing layers if you feel too hot.
  5. Regular Breaks: Take regular breaks during your trek to warm up, hydrate, and eat high-energy foods.
  6. Be Aware of the Symptoms: Recognize the early signs of frostbite, such as numbness and a white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, face, or earlobes.
  7. Quick Response: If frostbite symptoms appear, seek immediate medical attention. In the meantime, warm the affected areas slowly using body heat or warm (not hot) water.

Note: Always take advice and listen to your Sherpa or trekking guide

Documents

Several important documents are needed to undertake the Annapurna Circuit Trek:

Passport: Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your departure date.

Nepalese Visa: Most travelers will require a visa to enter Nepal, which can often be obtained upon arrival at the airport in Kathmandu; it’s better to check the exact requirements based on your nationality before traveling.

Trekking Permits: There are two types of permits needed for the Annapurna Circuit Trek:

TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management Systems) Card: This can be obtained in Kathmandu or Pokhara.

Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP): This permit is also available in Kathmandu or Pokhara.

Travel Insurance Document: It’s highly recommended to have travel insurance that covers emergency evacuation, as helicopter rescues are not uncommon for trekkers who suffer from altitude sickness or injuries.

Vaccination Certificates: Depending on your home country and current health advisories, you might need to show proof of specific vaccinations.

Emergency Contact Information: It’s essential to have a list of emergency contacts, including contact information for your country’s embassy or consulate in Nepal.

Remember to keep these documents safe but accessible throughout your journey. Keeping copies of all your important documents separately from the originals is also a good idea.

Conclusion

The Annapurna Circuit Trek is one of Nepal’s most enjoyable trekking destinations, but some factors make it difficult. Consider factors like altitude, rugged terrain, various trails, dynamic weather, and long distances. Increase your physical fitness and practice breathing exercises to prepare for your trek even before booking it.

The most significant difficulty of the trek is the high altitude, which causes altitude sickness. So always listen to your body, pay attention to the guides’ advice regarding acclimatization, and do not rush to climb the altitude. You can also pack medication along with other proper clothing and hiking items. So, despite the trek difficulty, Annapurna Circuit Trek is a fantastic adventure you shouldn’t miss the chance to experience.

Contact us to ensure your journey is well-planned, secure, and unforgettable.

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