Annapurna Base Camp: Amphitheater of Giants

We’d already experienced a variety of climates, landscapes, and breathtaking views in Nepal, but something was still missing.

We’re back with another check-in from world travelers Mark and Britnee Johnston. This update comes from Mark, and details the experience of trekking to Annapurna Base Camp, an outpost commonly referred to as ABC—a deceivingly simple acronym for a hike that is far from elementary. Keep reading to see more of this monumental landscape and the journey it took to soak it in.

The ABC trek is more a form of self-imposed punishment than an enjoyable hike in the Himalaya. After spending 20 days on the Annapurna Circuit and then nearly two weeks in Pokhara recovering from giardia, we’d already experienced a variety of climates, landscapes, and breathtaking views in Nepal, but something was still missing. Britnee and I felt we were ready for a closer experience with the impressive Annapurna mountain range.

There is so much more to Nepal than just the world’s largest mountains and the people who climb them, but a visit to the base camp of an 8,000 meter peak and the tenth highest mountain in the world was something I’d been dreaming of for a long time. So after renewing our permits to the Annapurna Conservation Area, we caught an early taxi to the village of Kande, where we came face to face with the steep steps of the trail that would define the next six days.

We’d heard stories about this trail and its endless steps from other travelers, but none of this fully registered until we experienced the misery ourselves. To make matters more difficult, the views of the surrounding peaks were shrouded in heavy clouds for the first two days, providing little motivation to continue when our thigh and calf muscles were burning from the continuous climb.

Then, on the fourth morning, we had our first clear views of the magnificent peak, Machhapuchhre, and this vision spurred us through the additional 1,210 meters of elevation gain. We made great time and reached base camp early that afternoon in glorious sunshine. There we sat and admired the near-vertical south face of Annapurna, glowing white and gold, as we sipped sweet milk tea and rested our tired legs. 

That evening the altitude finally caught up with me, and by midnight I was suffering with a splitting headache and nausea that kept me awake until early the next morning. I got in a few restless hours of sleep, and by the time my alarm went off, I woke feeling somewhat better.

I went out and sat with Britnee and our friends in the amphitheater of giants, waiting patiently as the stars faded and the mountains glowed with the coming dawn. As the sun crested Machhapuchhre at our backs, the golden light creeped down Annapurna I, Annapurna South, and Patal Hiunchuli, turning them a deep orange against the silvery blue of the sky above. In that moment, all of the punishment of the previous four days was forgotten and we sat in reverent awe of the beauty that surrounded us. 

After a light breakfast, we packed our things and began the descent, warmed by the sunlight that had finally reached the valley floor. Motivated by thoughts of hot showers and better food than what was offered on the teahouse menus, Britnee and I cruised down the trail at a blistering pace.

The morning we descended toward our awaiting taxi, we passed fresh-faced trekkers heading up the trail looking a lot like we did a week ago. Suddenly I realized what every descending trekker must’ve been thinking about us when they had passed our naive smiling faces: “You poor, poor bastards. You have no idea how much misery awaits you . . . but it’s so worth it.”

Cotopaxi sponsored Britnee and Mark Johnston on their global expeditions across the globe. Read about their journey.