Thorong La Pass: Even the donkeys are out of breath 26


For the last two weeks we’ve been hiking through Nepal’s Himalayas, and today’s the day we plan to finally cross Thorong La Pass. At 5416 meters (17,769 feet) the pass is the highest and arguably the most difficult portion of the Annapurna Circuit. The air is thin and each step is labored. So much of my body’s resources are preoccupied with the basic necessities of life that it’s difficult to hold a conversation. Up here, even the donkeys are out of breath.

A Traveler looks toward Base Camp

A Traveler looks toward Base Camp below Thorong La

Slow and Steady

We’ve taken our time getting here, careful to go slow and acclimate along the way. We just finished a side trek to Tilicho Lake, one of the highest altitude lakes in the world. At nearly 5000m (16,200 feet) this visit helped tremendously with acclimation, preparing our bodies to go even higher today.

We also visited Praken Gompa in the hills above the nearby villiage of Manang. The monk who lives there blesses those who make the short climb to see her, selling necklaces which are meant to bring good luck to those planning a Thorong La crossing.

Praken Gompa in the Hills Above Manang

Praken Gompa in the Hills Above Manang

The Area Around Manang

The Area Around Manang

Imposing Beauty

Over the last two weeks we’ve seen glimpses of mountains towering over us. The overwhelming beauty of what we’ve seen so far has continually been accompanied by faint hints of apprehension as we’ve wondered whether our crossing will be successful. Any number of ailments might strike hikers, from altitude sickness to something more basic – like falling off the hillside.

Another Steep Dropoff

Another Steep Dropoff

Imposing Beauty

Imposing Beauty

Sunrise on Annapurna II

Sunrise on Annapurna II

Crossing Thorong La Pass

Travelers might stay at either Base Camp (4420m) or High Camp (4800m) depending on their level of acclimatization. Since we took our time getting here and also visited the lake, we made the extra hike to High Camp on the day before our crossing. This would save us more than an hour on an already long day of crossing the pass. Waking up before dawn, we were greeted to early risers who were already reaching our altitude on the way to Thorong La.

Morning View from High Camp

Morning View from High Camp

We packed quickly and set out shortly thereafter. The sun rose behind us as we made slow progress toward Thorong La. The views promised to be stunning, but a fog quickly settled in and ruled out any further dramatic photo opportunities. It started to snow, and I knew the downhill portion into warmer temperatures would be a sleet ridden test of endurance. We pressed on.

Sunrise View above High Camp

Sunrise View above High Camp before the fog settled in

Reaching Thorong La Pass

Walking uphill for hours, taking frequent breaks to let our heart rates and breathing settle, it felt like we may never reach Thorong La. Adding to the challenge are a large number of “false passes” – you round a corner thinking this is it, only to see an equally long stretch of trail before you as the one you just passed.

Walking Uphill

Walking Uphill

Otherworldy Landscapes

Otherworldy Landscapes

Finally at Thorong La

Finally at Thorong La!

Danielle and I are each pretty stubborn people. This of course leads to a multitude of challenges and compromises that need to happen within a relationship. But our idiosyncrasies can be used as strengths too, like when we’re in Nepal walking uphill at 17,000 feet. For us, there was never really any alternative other than to keep going. I’m glad we did, because this was one of the coolest experiences of my life.


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