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My trek to Annapurna North Base Camp

By Steve Berry in Nepal , The Himalaya - 7th November 2023

Earlier this year our MD, Steve Berry, was one of the first westerners to trek on a newly built trail that leads to the foot of Annapurna I - the highest peak in the Annapurna range in Nepal. Steve was following in the footsteps of an historic 1950 expedition that was the first to climb the mountain. Here he introduces the trek, explaining the significance of the route, the story behind the new trail, and why he believes it's such a superb Himalayan trek.

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Annapurna North Base Camp sign

"Every year of our 36 years running treks and tours around the world, Nepal has always been our biggest single destination. In that time we have gone exploring far and wide, from Everest eastward to Kangchenjunga on the border with the former kingdom of Sikkim, and westward to Mount Api sitting near the border of Nepal and India. We have taken our clients on all of the world famous Nepal treks, and also traversed remote routes way off-the-beaten-track. We have trekked to the base camps of all of the eight x 8,000 metre peaks in Nepal, and we have pored over maps searching out new routes in amongst the myriad peaks that make up just a fraction of the Himalaya chain. We have laboured our way over lofty snow covered passes to seek out strange, isolated Buddhist kingdoms such as Dolpo, Mustang, Limi, Rolwaling and many more. We have crossed glaciers, traversed sensationally deep gorges, penetrated hidden valleys, and made complete circuits of some of the tallest peaks in the world. But we are always on the lookout for new and exciting treks in Nepal.

Recently, some old expat friends of mine who have lived on and off in Nepal for donkey’s years told me how they had recently been up to the original Base Camp for Annapurna to the northwest of Pokhara. They urged me to go, and so I did! It was such a fantastic experience.

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Expedition at base camp

Annapurna I was first climbed by the French in 1950. Those were the days before motorable roads, and prior to detailed maps. The large expedition consisted of some of the most famous names in French mountaineering history - Maurice Herzog (Leader), Louis Lachenal, Lionel Terray and Gaston Rébuffat and others. They spent many weeks just trying to find a route to the mountain, let alone climb it. The ascent is a fantastically gripping tale of success against all the odds, and the descent is a harrowing story of near death and terrible frostbite. Their route to the northwest base camp was complicated and remote. Little wonder that when Chris Bonington’s expedition succeeded on the south face of Annapurna in 1970, his Base Camp became more famous because it had an easy approach through the fabled Annapurna Sanctuary. Over the years the French Base Camp was simply forgotten.

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Hydro electric project near Tatopani

However, a strange and intriguing story has now made the French Base Camp perfectly possible. Some seven or eight years ago a prominent local politician, Mr Tej Gurung, realised that if a path could be made up the Miristi Khola Canyon it would lead straight to the old French Base Camp. He therefore set himself a mission to raise the funds to build such a path. He hopes that trekkers will come and that his local community will benefit. This activity coincided with the Nepalese government deciding to build two hydro projects in the Miristi Khola. The government then built a 20km road from near the small town of Tatopani to Hum Khola Dovan which is where the second hydro project is, and our trek starts. Incidentally, the road is a real feat of engineering skill. It is wide enough to take lorries single file, and caterpillar tracked JCB diggers, but is not tarmacked. In the last stages the road has been engineered into the sides of big cliffs. It is an exciting drive to say the least. If you do not relish drives in 4 x 4 jeeps with steep drops to one side then this trek is not for you!

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Steve's guide with Tilicho Peak behind

When you do the trek to French BC you will be amazed at the standard of the path that has been created by Mr Tej Gurung and his team. The work this must have entailed is incredible. However, what will really stagger you is the incomparable scenery. There are beetling cliffs, eerie forests, and waterfall after waterfall after waterfall. There are a few good suspension bridges and a rushing river with boulders the size of houses. There is forest to begin with and climbing upwards you see strange rock formations, and from the start you can see the high snowy peaks above and framed at the end of the gorge. When finally you reach the high point of the old glacial moraine, just before the original base camp, the grandeur is incredible. You have essentially arrived at a high altitude valley in which sits Lake Narchang and surrounded on all sides by gigantic peaks. The various summits of Annapurna are to your right. Across the lake is a gigantic set of cliffs which look like a pedestal for Mount Tilicho (7,134m/23,405ft) to sit upon. To the left you can see the three peaks of Nilgiri, beyond which is the Buddhist kingdom of Mustang.

On a personal note, I must say I felt truly privileged to visit this incredible place. It is an exciting route just to get to the old Base Camp. The day spent exploring up to French Advance Base Camp I will never forget. As a wonderful coincidence Mr Tej Gurung just happened to be at the base camp at the same time as myself, and I was able to congratulate him on his achievement of a lifetime in the construction of the path.

I cannot recommend this trek highly enough, it's a Himalayan classic in the making that may one day rival Annapurna Sanctuary as a short trek at a relatively low altitude that offers stupendous views and an achievable objective. My advice is to go now before too many others discover it!"

Follow the link for the full details of our Annapurna North Base Camp Trek, and call Steve if you have any questions.

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