Annapurna Base Camp & Poon Hill
Annapurna (Sanskrit, Nepali, Newar: अन्नपूर्णा) is the name of a massif in the Himalayas that is known for its highest mountain--Annapurna I (elevation : 8091m), the 10th highest mountain in the world and one of the 14 8000ers. Although Annapurna I was the first 8000er to be summited way back in 1950, it also, as of 2012, has the greatest fatality rate, with a ratio of 34 deaths for every 100 safe returns (followed by K2 (elevation : 8611m) and Nanga Parbat (elevation : 8126m) with 29 and 21 respectively). This makes Annapurna I the world's deadliest mountain.The vast majority of trekkers do not visit this region to summit the peaks however, but instead choose to tackle either the Annapurna Circuit, the Annapurna Base Camp trek, or the Poon Hill trek (the last two were combined on this trip, of which the route can be seen in the map below). When you head towards Annapurna from the south, up the narrow valley that has been carved by the Modi Khola River over the many eons, you will eventually reach the 'gateway' between the peaks of Hiunchuli (elevation : 6441m) and Machapuchare (elevation : 6997m). This gateway leads to the Annapurna sanctuary, which is an oval-shaped glacial basin that sits more than 4000 metres above sea level. This 'sanctuary' is completely surrounded by towering mountains on all sides, and is what makes the Annapurna Base Camp trek so appealing.Poon Hill on the other hand, is one of the shortest, easiest, and most popular treks in the area. For such a simple trek, the view of the mountains from the summit can be very rewarding. On a clear and cloudless day, you will be presented with magnificent 360-degree views of Dhaulagiri (elevation : 8172m), Nilgiri (elevation : 7061m), Annapurna I (elevation : 8091m), Annapurna South (elevation : 7219m), Hiunchuli (elevation : 6441m), and Machapuchare (elevation : 6997m).
Interactive Location Map
The Annapurna Conservation Area is Nepal's first and largest conservation zone, and has been set up to protect the Annapurna massif and the biodiversity-rich areas that surround it (entry into which requires an ACAP permit). This initiative is quite vital as the number of tourists that have flocked to this region has soared over the years--the region currently attracts about 60% of the total number of trekkers that visit Nepal. This is not only due to the cultural and natural richness of the region, but also because of its accessibility; the range is so close to the city of Pokhara that trekkers are able to reach Annapurna Base Camp (elevation : 4130m) in just a matter of days.
This surge in popularity has resulted in the establishment of thousands of guesthouses [I intentionally choose to use the term 'guesthouse' instead of 'teahouse' to distinguish between lodges that cater to trekkers and the authentic Nepali teahouses], as well as other services to accommodate the trekkers' whims and fancies. The consumption of wood in the region stresses forest resources, and to make matters worse, visiting trekkers consume multiple times more wood, either directly or indirectly, than the locals do.
The amount of litter that is generated is another matter of concern. It is estimated that an average trekking group of 15 trekkers generates about 15kg of non-biodegradable waste on a 10-day trek, which amounts to tonnes of waste produced in the mountains annually. As such, the reduction of my ecological footprint when in the mountains was of paramount importance to me. So to keep it low, I decided to do the following: