Local man completes Annapurna Circuit
December 17, 2015
It was June when Dan Nolan got a call from his friend Johnny Hodges about a trip to Nepal. Nolan is the former deputy director of renewable resources for the U.S. Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Region.
Hodges and two friends, also retired Forest Service employees, were planning to do the Annapurna Circuit, a 100 to 150 mile trek through the Annapurna range in Nepal's Himalaya. Hodges asked if Nolan would want to join them.
"This was kind of totally out of the blue," Nolan said of the proposition. "I said, 'let me think about it.'"
Nolan immediately went out side and started walking, "to see if my 69-year-old body would break down," he recalls with a chuckle. The Annapurna circuit maintains an almost mythical reputation in trekker and backpacker circles. The route circles the Annapurna massif, a geological upheaval in north central Nepal that includes three peaks over 8,000 meters. Beginning in Besishahar, a sub-tropical city of around 26,600, the circuit rises up toward the southern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. It reaches its apogee at Thorong La Pass. At 17,769 feet, Thorong La is higher than Mount Everest Base Camp and is reputed to be the highest mountain pass in the world.
Nolan agreed to join the party.
The group arranged for two guides and two porters to help them with the journey. Nolan arranged to fly into the Nepali capital Kathmandu two days early to explore a bit.
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"It's just a fascinating city," Nolan said.
After the arrival of the rest of the party, the group set out to Besishahar on a bus.
"Nepal has a dramatic range of climate and vegetation conditions," Nolan said. "Down in the south, it's tropical, and as you move north you continually go up in elevation."
At around 2,700 feet of elevation, Besishahar is populated with palm trees, banana trees and other tropical vegetation, Nolan said. From there, the group set out on foot.
"Basically the idea is to walk around this mountain range and so we start here at 2,700 feet and every day we'd walk and gain 1,000 feet or so in elevation and stay in these little villages," Nolan said.
Their accommodations were teahouses, which Nolan described as "very small rustic hotels." Aside from the traditional Nepali meal of Dal bhat, rice and lentil soup, the offerings were pretty diverse, Nolan said. The teahouses offered a variety of pasta, rice and meat dishes.
"Once you get into the higher elevations where agricultural opportunities aren't that great trekking is a big part of their economy," Nolan said. "They actually had varied menus at these small teahouses."
Nolan even tried Yak meat.
"It wasn't anything special," he said.
Eventually the group made its way to Manang where they started acclimatizing for Thorong La.
"The day we were going over the pass, we got up at 3:30 in the morning and then set out at 4:30 a.m. with headlamps hiking in the dark up this very steep trail," Nolan said.
Over the course of five hours, the group made its away 3,000 feet up to the top of the pass. Crossing the pass was the highlight of the trip, Nolan said.
"From last June when this idea of doing this trek first came to me, that was the thing we all focused on in terms of being challenged and wondering how it would be," he said.
Whatever relief the trekkers felt after making the pass was short lived – the group still had a 5,000-foot descent on the other side. Despite the grueling trek, the team had perfect weather.
"It was crystal clear weather the whole time so we had great views of all these mountains," Nolan said.
The culture of Nepal's mountains is heavily influenced by neighboring Tibet, Nolan said. The towns the group visited along the circuit were populated with monasteries, prayer wheels and other artifacts of the Tibetan Buddhist faith.
"A big part of this trip was not only walking in view of the highest mountains in the world, but the whole cultural aspect of experiencing these small villages and Buddhist Tibetan culture," he said.
The group walked for 13 days and covered around 120 miles.
"I found it fascinating," Nolan said of the trek. "It was different from anything I'd ever experienced before."
Since returning, the group hasn't yet made plans for another trip, but Nolan said it's always a possibility.
"I don't have a plan to do anything, but if something out of the blue happens, you never know."
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