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Australia-Blue Mountains - Katoomba circuit trek.

30 °C

The plan - to walk from Katoomba to Tarros Ladders than to Kanangaroo Clearing and double-back to Dunphy's camping area. Very easy hike which would let us to enjoy the beauty of the Blue Mountains without much strain. Or was it?

We went to one of Sydney's sports superstores and made the following investments: 2 - sleeping mats @ $5 each, 2 - sleeping bags @ $20 each, 1 superior quality tent @ $20 (please don't rain!!!). We bought a large plastic sack, moved all of our non-essential stuff and left it in Elephant Hostel in Sydney. I recommend the place, they have a bar with $3 beers!

Day 1

We woke up early and grabbed a train to Katoomba from Sydney Central. Katoomba is within Sydney's transport network hence you can use same pre-payed travel card to get there for under $6.

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We stocked up on Aldi's finest beans, muesli, snickers, potatoes, boiled eggs and 2 liters of water each we set off on this adventure.

The first day you walk on a nice leveled fire trail, we made a couple of detours to Castle Head view point.
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We met a guy who was there for a day walk with his kid, and he told us that water situation wasn't great. But we were planning to go down in the wooded area hence we were going to be ok.
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We found a little trickle on a side of the road, I have topped up one of the bottles and we went onward to our camping spot. A couple of kilometers before our designated campsite there was supposed to be a creek which unfortunately happen to dry out. There was another one on the map, but it was below a steep cliff and hidden in a canopy so we have decided to move on.

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What a view! I have realized we had only 2,5 litters of water to share. This was OK for the night, but when day breaks and sun goes up you start to sweat water by pint.
I actually found 3 bottles of water stashed in the camp. But they were dated 3 years earlier, how long can water stay safe in a plastic bottle for? Of course its possible that bottles were reused, but you hardly ever reuse bottle more than once, and probably straight after the first use. I've decided we shouldn't risk chemical poisoning and left them alone.

And this is what we woken up to!
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Day 2

Next morning we were going to walk to Kanangaroo Clearing some 10km away. A really easy day.
We found the trail by the info sign behind the camp and quickly reached Tarros Lader.
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Good job I bought a synthetic rope a couple of weeks ago!
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Climbing Tarros Lader with a backpack on your back could be a quite dangerous endeavor.

From there we hiked towards Mount Mouin. By the time we reached the hill we realized 2 things:
1-there is no water anywhere near and we are down to one litter to share. We only managed to save that much by rationing and you could seriously feel dehydration.
2-there was no trail. I mean it was on my GPS but not in the real life.

We have bushwhacked along imaginary trail, climbing over loose rocks, bushes and watching out for snakes. I remember Dovile asking "how long till the trail head" me saying "600 meters", than her asking the same thing again half an hour later and me answering "600 meters", as if we were walking backwards! Not it was only hard work to fight your way through the bush, we were also burning a lot of water. Personally I was mentally prepared to do Bear Grylls and drink my pee. I thought that would make for a great facebook video too:-)

Than after covering slightly more than a kilometer in 2 hours we have reached Mount Warrigal. We found some compressed ground at the foot of the hill, which could have been remains of a trail, or just wishful thinking?

Mount Warrigal is a square rock which you can traverse on the left side. There is some shelter from sun and or miracle ...... a small drop by drop trickle of water. I don't have a picture, but here is a video of Dovile collecting water (don't mind my commentary):

By using sardines tin, a mug, bottle caps, sweaty hut and a hanky we have managed to collect just under a liter in about an hour. Great success!

At this point it was clear that with a speed of 1 km/h there was no way we were going to reach Kanangaroo Clearing, so we decided to get to Mobbs Swamp which was marked on a map as a campsite and tomorrow reverse back to civilization.

The liter we have collected did us little good, we drunk it in an instant and were still feeling dehydrated. Hence the Bear Grylls thoughts came back.

Then by some miracle we found a trail, it's only a couple of kilometers to Mobbs Swamp, and on a trail we can make it in no time. And the place is called Mobbs Swamp so there must be water!
Oh some local fauna blocking the trail...
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We stayed on a trail for about 7 minutes, than it turned into proper mangrove. A waist-deep grass with god only knows what beneath. And yeh, I am afraid of snakes, there I said it! Normally I would strike me pole on the rocks and trees when I walk in a snake territory so they can get out of the way, but now I'm a waist deep.... oh just keep on bushwhacking...

At about 6 pm we reached Mobbs Swamp site just to find out that Mobbs Swamp was well a swamp.
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Well, that was literally it, a meter long half-meter wide swamp, full of worms and what not unsavory...
We have deliberated for about an hour. Should we drink the swamp water or should we ration the last 0.5 litter we have and walk tomorrow back to civilization dry. We had to take into account that we were hugely dehydrated, that the walk to Dunphy's camping could be much longer than we anticipated and that we can minimize the risk by doing all of the below (Here I have even narrated a little video on how we dealt with the situation):

In case my video was too shite. We have tried charcoal filtering the water (gave up right away, too slow), than boiling it and than putting 4 times the dose of chlorine tablets so it smells like swimming pool!

Than a two caps turned up. An Aussie and and his Irish mate, they asked us if there was water as they were running short. I said "sure here it is, seems alright I drunk it", they looked at the swamp and said fuck that! We still have a liter each and should make it back. They were only on an overnight trip. They came from Dunphy's camping area via Knights Deck trail which they said was completely overgrown and very difficult to navigate and fight through, so a word of warning to all brave souls out there.

We stayed up until 10 pm going through process of boiling the water in a one cup that we had than cooling it off in a Hainz beans can until it's cold enough to be put in a bottle and than chlorinated. We also filled up our 5 litter water-proof bag.

I have never ever ever ever ever ever tasted water that good!

Day 3

I hate to abandon my plan, but this time we really bit more than we could chew and we definitely got more adventure than we bargained for. So we decided that it's time to go back to civilization to Dunphy's camping area.
Was a pretty strait trail, but look at this baby!
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Shortly we reached Black Horse Ridge. Lookout, there is a trail, but it's far too easy to lose, if you have a map on you phone or a GPS gadget, keep checking it.
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Shortly after we got to, or heaven Breakfast Creek! Water - clean water...

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There we had our first encounter with Kangaroo, and shortly after we reached Dunphy's camping area.
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A well equipped place with a barbecue, fire places, water catcher. We boilled some pot noodles and carried on to the next camp site just an hour down the road.

Day 4

Generally uneventful day, you have to walk quite a lot along the road and than you join the "Six Foot Track". You have to walk up the steps closer to Katoomba, and than we picked a place on a cliff just minutes away from the motorable road.
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A final look over the Blue Mountains....
P.S. Please comment on this blog if you liked it, this will be superbly helpful!!!!! Thanks!

Posted by dima.safr 02:40 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes mountains trek blue wild camp hike drought Comments (2)

Annapurna - Circuit and Base Camp (Chapter 1 Circuit)

17 days independent trekking in Himalayas

After spending a night in a freezing-AC Shardjah airport we finally made it to Kathmandu.
First surprise was that Air Asia have lost Dovile's luggage with most of her trekking gear. We have made a report and were told to wait for the call, luggage should come on the next flight that evening, well that didn't happen. We called airport several times trying to find out what was happening and if we should wait for it at all or just get on with our trek. Finally we went back to the airport and spoke to the Air Asia rep who told us "why didn't you come to me right away?" well next time we will.
Not hoping to get Dovile's gear back we have decided to withdraw some money and buy some knock-off North Fake. In Nepal you are charged for using a foreign card in an ATM, the trick is to find out which bank rips you off less. Namib bank charges 400npr and allows to draw 35000. So we went to an ATM in Thamil and as I have keyed my PIN and pressed Withdraw, I could hear the cash being counted, and than – a power cut! ATM went dead than sometime later came back to live but no cash. I have called my bank and they said that yes transaction has been processed and I need to start a dispute. Just what we needed a day before setting off.

On a positive note, the Air Asia guy called and told us they found the luggage and Dovile won't have trek in flip flops! First thing in the morning we went to the airport, than poped into the bank to file a dispute with them (the guy was very casual about it, apparently happens all the time). And we were off to Pokhara – 8 hours on a local bus listening to the best Bollywood music.
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Day 1

Pokhara-Bessisahar-Bahundanda – 15 km
after 4 excruciating hours on a back seat of a bus we have arrived at the starting point of the Annapurna Circuit – Bessihsahar. Here you need to stamp your permit and TIMS card. I believe you can take a bus further to Bahundanda, but we decided to walk to Nadi Bazar. You do walk a lot along the jeep track, having to stop a few times to let the jeeps pass. There is a massive building side where Chinese build a new damp. Not the best day all in all, Nadi Bazar however has some pretty views. Here we had our first Dal Bhat!
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Not the worst view out of our window

Day 2

Bahundanda-Khorte - 23 km
Ok, this is a big one. On the second day we decided to push! The idea was that while we were at the lower altitude (under 3000 m) we should be covering maximum distance so we could go slower once we reach Manang. Important point - we were trekking in mid-September, which is monsoon shoulder. This means less people on the trail, more beautiful views to ourselves, but it rains... it rains to the point when trails turn into rivers... and almost forgot - leeches, leeches are everywhere, a lot of leeches!
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Here Dovile is doing mandatory leech-control session.
They do piss you off and I'm not kidding. They get on your shoes and under the trousers, get on hiking poles and climb up right to your hands and higher. Basically you have to stop every hour and do a leech-control session.

It's a long but not a terribly hard day, a few hills to climb, but mostly you walk along a gorge with some beautiful waterfalls along the way. Like this one
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And you cross a lot of suspension bridges
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We left at about 8 am and arrived at Khorte by 6 pm. You should really plan to arrive by 5 pm, as it gets darker and way colder.
You pass a village which is guaranteed to have at least one lodge every 1,5-2 hours, so it's easy to pace yourself. Most villages are not more than a few huts and fields along the road, but there are a couple quite substantial-like Tal on this picture. Based in a very beautiful valley.
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We stayed at Khorte which is not more than 2-3 houses by the gorge. The lodger made an unwise mistake by leaving a honey jar on a table when we asked for honey pancake. We put a spoon-full in our tea and than swallowed a few tea spoons. You do need your calories!

Day 3

Khorte-Dhikur Pokhari - 28 km

Ok, now this was a big one. The plan was to get to Chame and have an easy day. The day was really shitty (hence no pictures), it was pissing with rain, the trails turned into streams, on a few occasions I thought I'd get a trench foot (don't trek in trainers, seriously a bad idea!). Hence we decided to keep our head down and just keep moving. We got to Chame by about 2pm. Chame is a proper village with shops, pharmacy and a hot spring. We decided why not to hike to Bratang, it was only another 1,5-2 hours and 150m altitude gain, no bigy.
On a way to Bratang we saw a massive red writing on a rock - YAKATTAK. Well sounded like a village name or a guesthouse or something, than we saw it again and again. Than a few local guys turned up and they were shouting - yak attack, yak attack. Turns out it's a stretch of a road where they run yaks, and those are not your friendly caravan yaks. You have to climb up the hill or they throw you right of the cliff.
We were walking for quite a while and uphill, I kept saying bloody 150m I know what 150m altitude feels like... Well we missed Bratang and got all the way to Dhikur at 3100m. You could feel it was over 3000, as this is where first signs of altitude kicks in, steps become harder to take, have to take rest every 10 minutes etc.
28km-not exactly an easy day. But on a plus side we got to have a hot shower free of charge! And a free room, all on condition that we would eat in place we stayed in.

Day 4

Dhikur Pokhari - Manang via Upper Pisang - 22km
Quite a challenging firs half of the day, you have to climb a lot of stares all the way to Ghyaru, but the view is worth it.
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This also supposed to be thre best view of the Annapurna massif, however, over the last 3 days we had low clouds covering everything above 4000m.
On the left hand side you can see Humble airport, I believe there are a couple of flights a week from Pokhara.
Manang is a local capital complete with lodges, bakeries, video bar, shop, and a map of day trips which you can do during your mandatory acclimatization day. As it gets colder the lodges get more solid, almost all of the buildings are stone made and well insulated. We quickly picked a lodge with a double room and an en-suit for $1.
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Day 5

Mandatory rest day in Manang. There was a plan to go for a day trip to a frozen lake (4200m), following the map in the village center. But it's been 4 days without anything going wrong, so something had to. I got knocked down with the weirdest ever stomach bug. I would feel nothing until a couple of hours after eating and than it would start hurting like hell. An easy way of avoiding this is not to eat. Easily said than done, at an altitude your body burns twice as many calories, you want to eat and lots. Well, garlic soup is good for me, and wide range antibiotics (picked up in KTM) in case it's bacterial.
A short hike to the top of the hill across Manang and the first glimpse of glacier.
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Day 6

Manang - Yak Kharka - 9,5 km
We paid our bill which over 2 days for two people food and room came to some 2500 npr. The best thing in this world that they are either free or really cheap.
A quick day only 3,5 hours walk, accending 500m to 4000m at Yak Kharka. The general idea is that you shouldn't pick up more than 500m a day after passing 3500m mark.

Day 7

Yak Kharka - Thorung Phedi (base camp) - 7 km

Another short day, only 2,5 hours and 400m accent.
Thorung Phedi is the only place, but it's very large and fully supplied.
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This is the first clear day with real views of Annapurna snow peaks!
A lot of people start the big hike to Thorung La from here, but it does make it for a very long day. We have won a lot of time by going fast at the lower stages, so we could afford to take it slow now. And this is my 3rd day on barely any food.

Day 8

Thorung Phedi - High Camp (4850m)- 1km only!

Yes, but it takes one hour! It's almost vertical, 450m accent. Well judge for yourself
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This is the view of Base camp from High Camp, I told you- vertical!

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And this is a view of High Camp from the nearby hill.
This was the first day when we really felt the altitude. A good way to acclimatize too.
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Day 9

High Camp-Thorung La-Muktinath-Jhong- 17km-aka the big push.

We started really early in a morning at about 6am, put literally everything we owned and joined a line of mostly Israeli trekkers. It's only 3,8 km to Thorung La but it took us almost 3,5 hours to cover that distance.
Altitude sickness feels like nothing else. You don't feel tired, your muscles don't ache, but you simply can't go. It's like a muscle car filled up with piss-diluted petrol, have all that horsepower but still can't go uphill. Now and again you forget about it and make a couple of rapid high jumps over a rock or something, it knocks you right down with a massive headache, spin and heart pounding.
My technique was to count 100 steps, stop and count till 20, repeat. Eventually it goes to 50 steps 20 sec rest, 20 steps 20 sec rest. You walk at a very slow and steady pace, and there is absolutely 0 reserve of stamina.
And here we are, the highest we ever been!
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There is a little tea shop on the pass, it's a good idea to warm yourself up and enjoy your accomplishment.
From there it's a long but easy walk down to Muktinath. You can feel getting stronger with every meter of descent. Muktinath is a city by Nepali standard, it's connected by road to Jomsom, has a bunch of 3-store buildings and a medical center where I got some more antibiotics and stomach pills. We had an apple pie in Bob Marley cafe, and used free wifi! By the way, remember the ATM that went dead on me and kept my money? I got a refund, twice! This was a welcome break of luck!

We decided to get a taste of what Upper Mustang valley is like and decided to go further to Jhong. Jhong is the furtherst place you can go without entering restricted zone, where you have to pay $50 a day for a trekking permit. Only an hour from Muktinath but it does look very different, and feels being right of the beaten track. Only one lodge in Jhong, and we had go and look for the owner around the village.
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Day 10

Jhong - Jhomsom (via Kagbeni) 17,5km-Tatopani (by Jeep).

This was a long day.
The first part was relatively easy, we had to walk quite level track to Kagbeni, which is right before a turn north that takes you to Upper Mustang.
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Kagbeni is a lively village, full of civilization brought by proximity to a road, and one of the largest monasteries in the area.
Plus some unique fast food joints!
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And here is Kagbeni from above
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Oh yeh, forgot to say, today is the first day I woke up without a massive stomach ache! I guess I deserve an award for doing Annapurna Circuit while fasting through the most of it!!!

4 hours lates we arrived to Jomsom. A ward of warning - it's a very exposed pass, you walk in the sun occasionally have to cross a road and deal with all dust from jeeps and trucks.

Jomsom is a city. You have 2 bus stations - one for Muktinath and one to take towards Pokhara. There is a shop and a pharmacy, and also you can fill up with purified water for about 50 npr, that is if you are sick of drinking chlorinated water.

We got our tickets at the office (800 npr for foreigners, somewhat less for locals) and where told to wait for the buss to come. The bus leaves when full, hence it worried us that there weren't may people besides us. You have to take a bus to Ghasa where you change for another Jeep/Bus to Tatopani or wherever else they feel like taking you that day.

Eventually it did come, and it was full of people. Apparently, it's a good idea to get on a bus at the bus stand (parking lot) so you are guaranteed a seat. Needless to say we got the very back seats.

I do have to say something about the road... Well, it's not built. It's carved out of the rock, it took us about 3 excruciating hours of breezing dust, swallowing own sick and praying to Buddha not to throw us of the cliff.

The entire ride I was thinking, why didn't we just walked it....?

By the way, we were told that it's not worth it hiking beyond Jomsom, mostly because of the road. Mostly by people who haven't actually done it themselves. This is not entirely true, the trail is on the other side of the gorge, and it hardly ever crosses the road. Besides you'd be very welcomed by locals who now get hardly any trade.

This is the end of chapter 1 - Annapurna Circuit, tomorrow we will commence Chapter 2 - Base Camp or as it's also known Sanctuary!

FAQs:

Do I need a porter/guide?
You definitely don't need a guide unless you are planning to deviate from standard Circuit or Base camp route. The trails a wide and well market, they are used as supply lines by the villages, hence there is a lot of traffic. If you happen to wander off friendly locals will point you in the right direction.
Having a porter could make it far more enjoyable walk. We had a backpack each 5-7KG plus water. Most hotels in Pokhara will store your luggage for you.

Costs:
Room normally costs from 0-200 npr. The idea is that they normally don't charge you much for the room on the basis that you have at least 2 meals in your guesthouse.
The food prices are fixed by the village and tend to rise the higher you go. In a lower areas dal bhat (ultimate mountain food that comes with a free refill) costs about 300-350, and this goes as high as 550 in the base camp. Most of our bills were 1500-2000. So I guess you can have a trip of your lifetime for $10 a person a day.

You can save a lot by purifying your water. A bottle of water can cost upwards of 100 npr, a small bottle of purifying drops is only 20 npr, and it will last you for months.

Maps – buy a good trekking map for about 300 in any bookshop in Pokhara or KTM. Don't really need it but it helps with planning your next day.

How long does it take.
Well that depends... Most of the guide books say about 14 days Bessihsahar-Jomsom. However this is based on a 5-6 hour day. We have trekked 8-10 hours and got to Jomsom in 9. My advise is to cover more distance in the first days until you reach Manang and than take it easy with a mandatory rest day in Manang.

Altitude sickness
Less common than in Everest region, mostly because of a very gradual altitude pick up. The big day is when you get over Thorong La at 5450m this will be hard and slow, just pace yourself and move slowly. We took Diamox, it must have helped too.

Internet
Available pretty much everywhere until Thorong Phedi, at a cost though. You can get a free connection in Muktinath. In other places will have to pay from 100-500 npr.

Electricity
Everywhere, most places in the lower part are supplied by local mini hydro power plants, literally small waterfalls captured into a pipe. As you go up places switch to hydro. The going rate is 100 npr per hour. Bare in mind solar doesn't charge as fast as hydro-powered.

Any more questions? Just drop me a message and I will add to the post.

Posted by dima.safr 06:41 Archived in Nepal Tagged trek camp base bath circuit nepal annapurna dal altitude jomsom independent Comments (0)

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