- - "The Pass": Bikepacking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

“The Pass”: Bikepacking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

words by Alba Xandri (@alba_xandri), video and photos by Ricard Calmet (@erreka

There are easy routes in difficult countries, fun routes in complicated countries, and weird routes in fascinating countries—it always depends on our subjective point of view during that particular snapshot of our lives. Our experience of a route can be greatly affected by our moods and emotions, regardless of the quality of the track itself or the scenery it traverses. For us, Nepal was an easy and pleasant country with a complicated route, mostly because of the time of the year—the middle of winter.

Bikepacking the Annapurna Circuit, had us pedaling up steep climbs and along dreamy trails to sleep very warmly on the coldest of nights. It had us eating dal bhat and momos and drinking countless milk teas every day. We were amazed by the magnitude of the mountains, covered in first and dust from top to bottom, and warmed in front of wood stoves while chatting with warm-hearted Nepalese. We pushed our bikes hard, and I laughed when Ricard told me that the Thorong La Pass was just a “flattish and insignificant mountain crossing.

It wasn’t until the fourth day on our route that the big day arrived. The day to cross the Thorong La Pass, at 5,416 meters (17,769 feet) above sea level. After a night of dreams and nightmares, the alarm clock rang in our little hut at Thorong High Camp at 4:45 a.m. We were not hungry because of the effects of altitude, but we had a little breakfast and started the final hike-a-bike toward the pass by the light of our headlamps.

It was -15°C (5°F), and the wind was picking up, numbing our hands and chilling our feet. One step at a time. The air was thin. We made a quick stop to shake our extremities energetically, a ritual we repeated throughout the climb. We were fully wrapped up in our thickest clothes and couldn’t afford to get any colder. We passed the 5,000-meter barrier, and the joy I felt when the sun caressed me is still difficult to describe accurately.

We continued to push on until we needed to put on our crampons. There wasn’t much snow, but the trail was narrow and icy. Occasionally, I looked at my bike computer to check how far the summit was. Still a long way to go. I realized that suffering was an inherent part of this winter experience because of the lack of oxygen, but above all, because of the extreme cold that seemed to chill even my soul. Finally, I raised my head and saw some prayer flags moving to the unbridled rhythm of the god Aeolus. A mixture of emotions exploded inside of me—a moment that will remain forever in my memory. Arriving at the top was an enriching experience of a lifetime. Despite all the effort, I felt nothing but happiness, and only the long descent remained.

After a few days, we arrived in Pokhara, where the Annapurna Circuit officially ended. However, our route had yet to come to an end, and we prepared to return to Kathmandu, cycling through the mid-hills. The big mountains were over now. We said goodbye to some of the highest and most beautiful mountains we’ve ever seen: the imposing Dhaulagiri at 8,167 meters (26,794 feet), in Sanskrit, white mountain; the majestic Annapurna massif with Annapurna I at 8,091 meters (26,545 feet) that stands out as the highest; the Manaslu at 8,163 meters (26,781 feet), the mountain of spirits; the Tilicho peak at 7,134 meters (23,405 feet) or the Gangapurna at 7,455 meters (24,458 feet), just to name a few.

We mostly pedaled on dirt tracks that wound through remote Nepalese valleys. It was a constant rollercoaster that allowed us to observe and experience the daily life of the mid-hills, which is what we like so much about traveling on two wheels. We made our way along roads that, at some point, they say, will be paved but today have countless holes and potholes and consist of a mixture of sand, dust, mud, and rocks. They were physically demanding roads that drained our energy very quickly but, at the same time, offered us a space to let our thoughts and souls flow after the all-encompassing experience of pushing up and flying down the pass.

Finally, we made it to Kathmandu, where our adventure came to an end. Time for the next one!

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