Avalanche covering the trail. Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

Trekking Annapurna Day 3: Crossing Avalanches

Mar 22, 2015 - Julie

We woke up on Day 3 and got ready, not knowing what will happen today. Compared to Day 2, we were much faster at packing our stuff, plus putting on sunscreen before we left this time. The night before, we made friends with other foreigners also staying at our teahouse – they were mountain biking the Annapurna Circuit! We thought that was unbelievably cool but also way hardcore. I guess it’s all relative – some people think all the traveling we’re doing is crazy, but its just the right amount of adventure for us. So while we think mountain biking the Annapurna Circuit is insane, it’s just the right amount of adventure for them. We said goodbye to them and set off trekking, though we were pretty sure they would pass us again on their bikes soon. On the way out of Chame, we passed by rocks carved with colourful Nepali characters and the local gompa.

Small stupa in Chame, Nepal
Small stupa in Chame, Nepal

The first hour to two to Bhratung (passing Talecko) was mostly quite safe, similar to what we had experienced the day before. Only one area seemed prone to landslides (besides the clear landslides on the other side of the valley that we could hear). In strong winds, we saw some pieces of rock and soil come down, but only a little bit. So we waited for things to calm, and then quickly walked through that section.

Landslide area on the trail, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Landslide area on the trail, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

The only other potentially threatening things were icicles formed on rocks perched on the side of the mountain cliffs above us. They dripped water and threatened to fall down at any point. We tried to walk as far from the rock face as we could while still being on the trail.

Ice stalactites would fall on the trail from time to time, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Ice stalactites would fall on the trail from time to time, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

On the other side of the valley, we sighted several post-avalanche areas. It was humbling to say the least. One of them had a thick layer of snow lining a section of the river, below a clear crevasse in the mountain where the avalanche had started. As we walked by, we saw that the avalanche had covered the whole valley, and the river was now flowing beneath it as the snow melted. There was such a thick, thick layer of compacted snow. To be honest, it was pretty cool to see the aftermath, but I’m glad we didn’t see the avalanche happening in person. It must have been terrifying. I would have been so freaked out I would have turned around and run down the mountain as fast as I could.

Avalanche covering the river, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Avalanche covering the river, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

We stopped for a lunch break in the only teahouse in Bhratung (not exactly a village). We weren’t super hungry, so only had a light meal (we would later regret not eating more). During lunch, we saw a jeep full of foreigners head down, as well as trekkers walking down. That was not encouraging at all. But a few other groups at the teahouse kept on and we were the last ones to leave.

Shortly after Bhratung, the road got much worse. First, we missed the NATT Trail to cross a wooden bridge to the other side of the valley – no matter, the other side didn’t seem to be walkable anyway. The developing car road carved out of the mountain rock led us to an excavating machine clearing the thick snow off the road. Since the excavator took up most of the room, we had to walk on a huge pile of snow on the side, marking the beginning of the rest of the day trekking on snow.

Julie trekking with the machines clearing an avalanche site on the trail, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Julie trekking with the machines clearing an avalanche site on the trail, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

For the next hour, the trail/road (the trail was on the developing car road) was covered in snow. There was a narrow path created by previous trekkers amidst the mid-calf high snow. Had there been no path of compact snow (or mud in melted areas), we would probably have turned back as our shoes were not equipped to handle deep snow. It was not ideal to walk even on compact snow/mud, but we wanted to go as far as we could. I never expected to be trekking in snow, and a week ago I would have said absolutely not, but at least others had mostly paved the way. Plus looking behind us showed us our first glimpses of the spectacular Annapurna II.

View of Annapurna II (7,937m), Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
View of Annapurna II (7,937m), Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

In front of us, we were slowly approaching a smooth concave mountain face known as Heaven’s Door. An auspicious place to be buried, souls have to climb their steep way up to heaven. The entire smooth surface was covered in snow, except the visible lines of avalanches that had come down. We had been managing the snow alright so far, but it was near Heaven’s Door that we hit a roadblock. We came upon yet another avalanche site… but this time it was on our side of the valley, with all the snow spread over the entire trail.

Carlos trekking on the snow with the Heaven's Door in the background, Nepal
Carlos trekking on the snow with the Heaven’s Door in the background, Nepal

It was here at the avalanche site that we lost the trail. All we could see was snow everywhere. Large chunky pieces of snow for miles, burying everything including trees. We were lost without the small foot trodden path. We wondered how everyone before us had made it through. With no idea how long ago this avalanche took place, we hoped it didn’t take anyone with it, especially none of the trekkers we had met. There was no way we could safely walk through without a trail so we turned back.

Avalanche covering the trail. Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Avalanche covering the trail. Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

A few steps down, we saw some locals coming up the same path we had. They seemed to know where to go, and they guided us across the avalanche site to the other side. After the avalanche area, the food trodden path was back again to our great relief. The one stroke of good luck we had was running into those locals or else we would have headed down right then and there – we had started trekking down already. I had disliked the snowy path beforehand, but now after that avalanche site, I was so thankful to be back on the regular snowy path.

Avalanche site covering the trail to Dhikur Pokhari, Nepal
Avalanche site covering the trail to Dhikur Pokhari, Nepal

Soon after, we crossed a suspension bridge that took us to the other side of the river. From there, the endless uphill trek began for what was only an hour, but felt like three. Most of it was spent in a lovely pinetree forest. Regrettably, it had even more snow than the trail/road. The trekking was like a mix between hiking and cross-country skiing up a slope, especially with my trekking poles. By this point in the early afternoon, a lot of melting had taken place and parts of the snowy path was either very muddy or flooded with water. We trudged through it, inevitably soaking our shoes and feet. Everybody knows it sucks to walk with wet shoes and feet.

Trail leading to the forest, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Trail leading to the forest, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

Despite all this, we were hopeful, because we had not seen anyone come down, meaning everyone else had made it at least to the next village, if not further. When we finally reached Dhikur Pokhari, I was so excited to see civilization, teahouses, and other people. Since we were in no rush to reach the still closed Thorong La Pass, we opted to stay in Dhikur Pokhari for the night. The last rays of sunlight managed to dry my shoes, but Carlos’ were still wet – they will have to be left by the fire at night.

View of the lodges in Dhikur Pokhari with Annapurna II in the background, Nepal
View of the lodges in Dhikur Pokhari with Annapurna II in the background, Nepal

From our teahouse in Dhikur Pokhari, we had an unobstructed view of the entirety of Heaven’s Door. It was really beautiful, yet also daunting – the lines of avalanches marred the otherwise perfectly white surface. On the other side, the tip of Annapurna II peeked through behind other mountains in the foreground. There was a lot of snow around and it was noticeably colder here than previous villages. At night, we all crowded into the dining room where a fire stove in the middle warmed us up. The stars were out again, even brighter than Day 1, if that was possible. We were happy to have survived the day, trekked over an avalanche, and made it this far.

Continue to read Trekking Annapurna Day 4: Best Views…

For more pictures of Dhikur Pokhari, please visit the gallery!