A Himalayan Sandwich – Best times for the Annapurna Circuit

Under the dizzying heights of several peaks of almost 8000m, lies the famous Annapurna circuit, one of the more popular hikes in Nepal. With enough spare days in your pocket you can head out on this trail for anything from 12 to 21 days, or even more, with vast mountain vistas in sight, stunning valleys and across High Mountain passes.

It is one of those treks that give you a little bit of everything on offer in Nepal, but don’t be misguided into thinking it is easy. Tackling high passes like the Thorung La at 5416m is no easy feat and given the unpredictable weather, heading out well prepared is essential.

So before you pack your bags, let’s unpack the seasons.

DSCN5842Nepal has two main hiking seasons, spring (March to May) and autumn (October to November) during which time the weather is generally dry with clearer days. Spring of course means that the rhododendrons are in full bloom making for a colourful canvas for your photographs. As you head into May though, the weather can become a bit cloudier with a bit of haze in the afternoons. The days are longer and warmer.

Autumn brings clearer mountain vistas with less afternoon haze and often, beautiful post monsoon clear skies. It is of course a little cooler than spring but no less beautiful.

Ideally for the Annapurna Circuit, April to May and October to November are the best months for trekking.

But what about the rest of the year? Well, spring and autumn are sandwiched in between the icy cold winter and the monsoon rains.

During the monsoon rains (July to September), the rivers flood, the paths become very muddy and worst of all, the forest floor comes alive with leeches. Yes indeed, long thin, slimy blood sucking leeches. In the monsoon season you will not escape them and some days will be worse than others. But if you are happy with less tourists and are prepared for constant leech checks at lower altitudes, then the monsoon is fine. But you also need to be prepared for landslides.

If the leeches are a deterrent but you still want less tourists and you don’t mind the cold, then December to January is your next option. Of course, winter brings snow and ice, temperatures well below zero at night and crisp daytime temperatures.

DSCN5905Excessive snowfall can also hinder your traverse up the Thorong La delaying or causing you to alter your journey. It also means that you need to be better equipped gear wise and have not only a warm down sleeping bag with you, but also a trusty pair of lightweight crampons.

But let’s face it, like any trek in the Himalayas, the weather is unpredictable and you can quickly go from warm clear days to icy plummeting temperatures.

So in short, if you like predictable weather and don’t mind lots of trekkers, choose spring or autumn.

If you prefer a quieter trek, then choose between rain and leeches, or snow and cold.

by Debra Bouwer

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